Nepal minister’s return shows anything goes
When Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba teamed up with the Maoists to oust K P Oli last year, he justified it on grounds that his predecessor had acted unconstitutionally and flouted the rule of law.
But in the year that he has been prime minister (for the fifth time), Deuba has outdone Oli every step of the way, and actually made his predecessor smell like roses.
Latest proof is the reinstatement of Finance Minister Janardan Sharma on Sunday after a kangaroo Special Committee of Parliament cleared him of wrongdoing in allowing an unauthorised person access to the budget drafting process.
The committee said it found “no evidence” of the middleman with alleged links to a corporate crony of Deuba’s Nepali Congress — even though the relevant cctv footage of the meeting with Minister Sharma appears to have mysteriously vanished.
Sharma was edged out last month after the Annapurna Post first reported the presence of a well-known corporate fixer at the budget meeting with Sharma the night before he presented it to Parliament in June.
That budget granted tax rebates and exemptions for a wide range of products designed to favour certain importers of electric vehicles, vegetable oil, and iron, while targeting rivals of those companies. The Chaudhary Group, Shanker Group, Saurabh Group and Jagadamba benefitted directly from the new tax rates.
Sharma’s triumphant return to the finance ministry may have looked like a victory to him, but it was a defeat for the rule of law in Nepal, and underscored just how entrenched impunity has become.
Janardan Sharma (aka Comrade Prabhakar) led the destructive Maoist assault on Tansen in 2005 as head of the insurgents’ Western Command. But that does not mean he knows much about managing the country’s economy, especially at a time of crisis like now.
Ever since his proximity to Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal earned him the finance minister’s post last year, Sharma has shown incompetence and deception — replacing experts at the ministry with his own yes-men, framing and sacking Rastra Bank governor Maha Prasad Adhikari when he tried to stop a $35 million transfer flagged by US anti-money laundering regulators.
Investors would not have to disclose sources of money on big investments in industries, and there were other instances of cronies getting special treatment.
This sordid serial scandal is tied up with coalition politics ahead of November elections — which the two top honchos Deuba and Dahal are now scheming to postpone so as to buy time to lay a smokescreen on its many crimes and misdemeanours.
Dahal needs Deuba more than Deuba needs Dahal. But for some mysterious reason Deuba is besmirching his own Nepali Congress party by protecting and propping up Maoist leaders who are knee-deep in nepotism, corruption and unanswered war crimes.
In doing so, Deuba is treating popular leaders within his own party like Shekhar Koirala and Gagan Thapa as enemies — the very people who could ensure the Nepali Congress greater electoral success in November.
While all this may benefit those within and outside Nepal who want to see the country’s Communist parties remaining divided, and especially prevent another electoral alliance between the Maoists and the opposition UML, Deuba now appears to be his party’s own worst enemy.
By absolving Janardan Sharma of all guilt, Deuba and Dahal have exposed the unholy and unnatural alliance of left and right. With elections around the corner, it was imperative for both to have Sharma back at the finance ministry with his hands in the cash till.
By dry cleaning Sharma, Deuba and Dahal have also proven their connivance in all past wrongdoings at the finance ministry. They have also sent a loud and clear message to Nepalis — those in power can get away with murder and malfeasance.
This is just what we do not need if Nepal is to prevent its economy from going into free-fall like Sri Lanka. Last week, the IMF’s Nepal director told a conference in Kathmandu that the country’s macroeconomic position was still comfortable.
However she warned that monetary policy needed to be tighter and inflation reined in. To do that we need a finance minister who is competent and transparent, not someone who has been whitewashed out of political expediency.
The only way Nepalis can correct this is by delivering these superannuated politicians their own loud and clear message at the voting booth in November.