Janardan Sharma once again assumed office as the country’s finance minister on Sunday. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, after the parliamentary committee stated it did not find any evidence to prove Sharma was guilty, reappointed him to the position that Sharma had left after a serious controversy around a month ago.
Everyone knows Sharma was under fire after Annapurna Post reported that he changed tax rates in the budget plan for the new fiscal year that would begin in mid-July 2022 under some industrialists’ pressure. Although the House committee could not find any evidence of the illegal interference, thus absolving Sharma, many believe the panel, in fact, did not make serious efforts to complete its assignment.
This reappointment, hence, has set a bad precedence. Yes, the committee might not have found proof of Sharma’s wrongdoing. But, PM Sher Bahadur Deuba and his coalition partner, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, recommending Janardan Sharma for the position of finance minister despite there being a very good case against him not being innocent makes a mockery of good governance and accountability.
Impact on the elections
Janardan Sharma’s reappointment particularly sets bad precedence as it takes place on the eve of the announcement of federal and provincial elections and might be risky for both Deuba and Dahal in the long run.
The parliamentary committee prepared its report with limited resources. The report clearly has more questions than answers as the committee has only said that it could not determine if he was innocent or guilty. It also found no proof that the allegations against Sharma were baseless.
But, appointing Sharma when there are a lot of legal and administrative questions to answer is a mindboggling decision.
The main opposition, the CPN-UML, being coy about this makes things even more problematic. There are accusations that the party does not want to raise this issue as it believes the ruling coalition will not bring up the M Adhikari case it is caught itself under in recent times. For whatever reasons, it seems the main opposition party does not want any confrontation with the ruling coalition before the elections.
Janardan Sharma, even before this, faced a lot of criticism. He was accused of not being literate about the general principles of the macroeconomic system including the economic and financial policies of the country. Many of his decisions about insurance and troubled industrial enterprises had triggered controversies from time to time.
The finance minister plays an important role in deciding where the country’s economy is heading. For that, the minister has to show strong leadership and should be confident that he can lead the country to economic growth. But listening to Sharma, during his time as finance minister, there is enough evidence that he has not been able to do so.
He has been at odds with the Nepal Rastra Bank for a while as he tried to oust NRB Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari. He had gone out of line to intervene in the functioning of the autonomous body. Minister Sharma has been accused of backing Prithvi Bahadur Shah, a resident of Achham, who is under the scrutiny of the central bank and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation for bringing millions of US dollars into the bank account in a suspicious manner.
The Supreme Court had even told Sharma what he could do and not do as the finance minister of the country.
A blow to democracy
Disregarding all these, Deuba and Dahal have reinstated Janardan Sharma as the finance minister. Universally, it is believed that democratic governments listen to people’s wishes and expectations and make efforts to address them. But, the coalition government just walked the opposite path.
This is not all. The ruling parties had a chance to appoint someone qualified for the post. Someone who knew the ins and outs of economics… Someone who the public would trust… Someone who could take on internal and external challenges and take the country to the next level. This was a chance to show the public that the government cared about the economy and did something to make sure that the economy, which is already fragile, would not get worse.
But, with the appointment of Janardan Sharma, they have ruined all of this as it did what it felt was right, not what was right for the country.
This commentary was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.