Wednesday August 10, 2022

Two amendments

October 30, 2021

The US constitution’s 18th Amendment, aka Prohibition, banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages. President Hoover described the amendment as “noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose”. However, the contradictions in the cultural and social context compounded by the ensuing corruption saw it repealed in 1933; it was an unmitigated disaster.

The non-availability of liquor induced consumption of moonshine produced on home stills. The fatal consequences saw over 1000 deaths annually. As pharmacies could sell liquor for medicinal purposes, bootleggers became pharmacists. Doctors jumped into the money-minting fray and started churning out alcohol prescriptions. Churches and synagogues were allowed wine for religious purposes, so religious centers morphed into booze joints.

The most damaging and far-reaching aspect of the 18th Amendment saw millions of Americans criminalised. It corrupted the US police force and enforcement systems. Many of its members started taking bribes and a great number became bootleggers. The economic fallout of the 18th Amendment, which cost 300 million dollars at enforcement, saw the government losing 11 billion dollars in tax revenue. This amendment also created organised crime in the US.

During the height of Prohibition, Al Capone's bootlegging business earned him a staggering 60 million dollars annually as against 1000 dollars of an industrial worker. Mobsters like Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel and Joe Masseria raked in fortunes through illicit empires. Vito Genovese rose to become the capo di tutti, boss of bosses, of the American Mafia. These mobsters avoided prosecution for years by bribing policemen, judges, juries, federal agents and politicians; those that did not fall in line were ruthlessly eliminated.

Certainly not a parable about the merits of selling liquor this Amendment, given its stated intent, seems a surrogate of our very own 18th Amendment. Both were introduced for noble purposes, though one can vigorously contest the intent of the latter which saw mafias and cartels thrive at the behest of the necessities of our daily lives. This travesty wrought nothing but misery. Reports including one by the Institute of Policy Reforms, corroborated by the World Bank, highlights Sindh’s steady deterioration since 2008, Balochistan’s continuous dismal performance and vast swathes of Punjab languishing in undiminished hardship.

Much has been said and written about the PTI’s laudable SNC initiative. It should be supplemented by introducing uniform teacher certification throughout Pakistan. The diverse requirement for teachers listed in the 2017 National Education Policy cites a BA/BSC degree in Punjab, Intermediate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa/Sindh and matriculation in Balochistan. The SNC has been rejected by the Sindh government, branding it a breach of the 18th Amendment’s non-delivering yet impregnable domain.

A TIP report reveals how the Sindh government was buying school desks at a 320 percent higher price and causing a loss of 3.3 billion rupees to the 18th Amendment fed provincial kitty. This is a mere drop in the murky ocean. Addressing a Foreign Service Academy delegation, the Stanford educated Sindh Chief Minister admitted that his province (governed by the PPP for the last 13 years) had 6.4 million out of school children. This is 40 percent of Sindh’s children; criminal apathy sees these millions forced to child labour. It is also during the PPP’s continuous stewardship that Karachi has the ignominy of being dubbed as “the worst educated and dirtiest mega-city on the planet”.

The 18th Amendment’s oxymoronic emphasis on education is mirrored in its paltry budgetary allocation. Ninety-five percent of this is spent on teacher salaries. In June 2019, Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah admitted that out of a total of 134,000 teachers in Sindh, around 100,000 existed merely on paper. He also talked about 9,600 shelterless schools. This earned him the ire of the custodians of the 18th Amendment and the abrupt and unceremonious withdrawal of his education portfolio.

‘Shame on the Sindh government’, was the admonishment recently meted out by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The tipping point was the Sindh government’s expressed inability to rehabilitate those displaced by the Gujjar and Orangi Town anti-encroachment drives. Given their years’ long culpability in allowing encroachments all over Karachi, the Sindh government’s representative had the gall to ask the bench to release 10 billion rupees from the penalty amount of another case. The court retorted that it would decide the disposal of this amount and the Sindh government had nothing to do with it.

Sindh’s constant lament for non-delivery has been its pauper status. This is despite the fact that it has received its due share of 742.030 billion rupees in 2020-21 and projected at Rs 848.208 billion for next year. The consequences of our sacrosanct 18th Amendment with the vanishing trillions have been a blatant negation of its proclaimed intent.

Given the ever-steady degeneration of all its deliverables, the talisman of our democracy now haunts us for what CS Lewis described as “those who torment us for our own good, will torment us without end”. The essence of democracy itself is when the constitution remains subservient to the well-being of the masses and not a hostage to a clique in hegemonic fiefdoms.

The writer is a freelance contributor.