ISLAMABAD: The drive to further empower Gilgit Baltistan through constitutional reforms has finally turned to be disempowerment of the region as all powers under the new the order, “Gilgit Baltistan Order-2018” have been conferred on the prime minister of Pakistan, instead of giving more autonomy to the area.
According to the new order, the prime minister of the country has become the epicenter of power in GB where even courts cannot question the orders and acts of the premier.
The new order, which is to replace GB Self Governance Order-2009, is all set to be passed by cabinet this month. However, National Security Council (NSC), in its recently held meeting, where the order was tabled, has reportedly asked the government to further discuss it with all stakeholders before finalizing the legislation.
According to sources, with the recommendation of NSC, the prime minister has called a meeting of all stakeholders of the highly sensitive issue at PM House tentatively on May 14. The government is trying to conclude the process before the end of its tenure on May 30 as it is working on reforms in GB since 2015, insiders claimed.
The new order, as the findings show, is likely to spark severe criticism and objection from various political, religious parties and the general public of GB as the center has largely turned down the demands of constitutional rights, making GB fifth province or giving it representation in National Assembly and Senate. None of the resolutions passed unanimously by the regional legislative assembly regarding the issue has been honoured in the new order.
As per the GB Order-2018, the rules set in the order are applicable within the territory of GB where Governor, as representative of the center will supervise affairs of the government, However, even in the affairs of regional government, PM will have the final authority of any legislation and administrative decision. Both Chief Minister and Governor will be subservient to the PM.
Interestingly, as per Articles 41, 46, 61 and 62 of the order, the exercise of the legislative authority of the government of GB in its own affairs is subservient to Prime Minister. The article 41, says” the executive authority of the Government shall extend to the matters with respect to which the Assembly has the power to make laws: Provided that, in any matter with respect to which both Prime Minister and the Assembly has the power to make laws, the executive authority of the Government shall be subject to, and limited by, the executive authority expressly conferred by this Order or by law made by the Prime Minister. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Order, the Government may with the consent of the Federation, entrust, either conditionally or unconditionally, to the Federation, or to its officers’ functions in relation to any matter to which the executive authority of the Government extends.”
According to Article 61, the executive authority of the Government shall be so exercised as to secure compliance with the laws made by the Prime Minister which apply thereon. (2) It shall be the duty of the Prime Minister to protect Gilgit-Baltistan against internal disturbances and to ensure that the Government is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Order. Article 62 says “the executive authority, of the Government, shall be so exercised as not to impede or prejudice the exercise of the executive authority of the Prime Minister, and the executive authority of the Prime Minister shall extend to the giving of such directions to the Government as may appear to the Prime Minister to be necessary for that purpose. The executive authority of the Prime Minister shall also extend to the giving of directions to the Government as to the construction and maintenance of means of communication declared in the direction to be of national or strategic importance. The executive authority of the Prime Minister shall also extend to the giving of directions to the Government as to the manner in which the executive authority thereof is to be exercised for the purpose of preventing any grave menace to the peace or tranquility or economic life of Gilgit-Baltistan or any part thereof.
Similarly, the articles, 60 (4), 60(6), (d) and 99 (2) also give exercise of the legislative authority of GB Government to Prime Minister and President. Article 60 (4) says “If any provision of an Act of Assembly is repugnant to any provision of any law which the Prime Minister is competent to enact, then the law made by the Prime Minister, whether passed before or after the Act of the Assembly, shall prevail and the Act of the Assembly shall, to the extent of the repugnancy, be void.”
Besides, the Article 105 of the order also gives immense power to Prime Minister in even financial affairs of the regional government. The article reads as “If the Prime Minister is satisfied that a situation has arisen whereby the economic life, financial stability or credit of Gilgit-Baltistan, or any part thereof, is threatened, he may, after consultation with the Governor, by Proclamation make a declaration to that effect, and while such a Proclamation is in force, the executive authority of the Government shall extend to the giving of directions to observe such principles of financial propriety as may be specified in the directions, and to the giving of such other directions as the Prime Minister may deem necessary in the interest of the economic life, financial stability or credit of Gilgit-Baltistan or any part thereof. While a Proclamation issued under this section is in force the President may issue directions for the reduction of the salaries and allowances of all or any class of persons serving in connection with the affairs of the Government.
Another important article is related to imposition of taxes in the area, as the same has been rejected by the residents until the region is mainstreamed through constitutional amendments and given equal rights. Under Articles 65, 60 (2) and (a) and the Third Schedule, Prime Minister has the authority to levy all taxes in the region.
“No tax shall be levied for the purposes of the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan except by or under the authority of law and all taxes and levies competently imposed under any law shall remain in force,” article 65 says while article 60 (2) (a) shows “the Prime Minister shall have exclusive power to make laws with respect to any matter in the Legislative List set out in the Third Schedule, hereinafter referred to as the Legislative List.”
The surprising portion of the order is related to the judiciary in GB where now all exclusive power of appointment in the judiciary is solely vested in Prime Minister. Interestingly, as per Article 77 (2), the direction, order or decree issued by GB Supreme Appellate Court and Chief Court of GB will not be enforceable in (Pakistan) rest of the country. Meaning thereby, no direction, order or decree can be issued against Prime Minister.
Another important legislation through the order-2018 is the order to override other laws. Article 117 says “The provision of this Order shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the provisions of any law for the time being in force except that in case of conflict between the laws of Pakistan and the laws framed under this Order, the laws of Pakistan shall prevail. No Court, including the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court and the Gilgit-Baltistan High Court, shall call into question or permit to be called into question, the validity of this Order.”
As per Article 120, the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self- Governance Order, 2009, hereinafter in this section referred to as “the Repealed Order” together with the Orders amending it, is hereby repealed. As the Gilgit Baltistan Council will also be ceased to exist after the issuance of the new order, section (3) of the Article 120 says “the six elected members of the erstwhile Gilgit-Baltistan Council shall become the Advisors to the Chief Minister for the remaining part of the tenure of the incumbent Assembly.”
It may recall here that new order is the final outcome of the three-year exercise of Sartaj Aziz, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, led constitutional committee formed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2015 to empower GB through the introduction of constitutional reforms.
As per a legal expert, in case the order is passed by the cabinet and subsequently issued by President, the PM will enjoy powers in GB which he does not in four provinces of the country.
First published in Pakstan Today on May 5, 2018