Even ruling party leaders are not impressed with the budgetOpposition party leaders say budget does not address the challenges posed by Covid-19.
As both houses of Parliament begin deliberations over the government’s budget for 2020/21, even leaders from the ruling party say they are not impressed with the dossier unveiled on Thursday.
Lawmakers from the ruling party, who spoke in Parliament on Sunday, have not only questioned the principles and ideologies behind the budget, but also asked why it failed to break the tradition in the midst of a global pandemic.
“In my opinion, the budget could not allocate required funds for the agriculture sector as demand for agricultural products will surge in coming months as a large number of people are preparing to return home,” said Nepal Communist Party leader and former Finance Minister Surendra Pandey.
The lawmaker also criticised the government’s imposition of additional taxes on electric vehicles. “Though we have increased the budget for the health sector, we could not allocate adequate budget for health-related human resources, and the procurement of medical equipment,” said Pandey, who added that the government’s plan to mobilise loans from external and internal resources is not based on reality.
Members of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, through various party platforms, had made several recommendations to the government, but such recommendations were ignored, lawmakers from the ruling party alleged.
“Members of the party had advised the finance minister to accord utmost priority to agriculture, but he failed to grasp the sector’s contribution to the economy,” a minister told the Post adding that agriculture minister Ghanshyam Bhusal is “not happy” due to this reason.
Proposals from Bhusal’s ministry to boost the agriculture sector through measures such as the fixing of price of agricultural products did not make it to the budget, an aide to a dismayed Bhusal said.
Other recommendations from the ministry such as providing grants to farmer to cover 50 percent of their electricity tariffs, loans with three percent interest to small farmers, and cash grants of up to Rs 500,000 for those looking to set up an agriculture-based start up were some of the other programmes that the finance ministry did not own up, said officials at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the party’s spokesperson and a member of the National Assembly, demanded that the controversial parliamentary development fund be cancelled. Shrestha, who was speaking during a meeting of the Upper House on Sunday, said the government has failed to initiate programmes to cut down on unnecessary public expenditure in the time of a crisis.
“The parliamentary development fund should be scrapped. Even the prime minister was not happy with this programme,” said Shrestha.
“The coronavirus pandemic has instigated a new discourse across the globe on its impact on the society, economy, livelihood, politics and development. But I could not find a single paragraph on the challenges being faced by the whole world and humankind,” said Shrestha.
Leaders of the ruling party are not just criticising the budget for the programmes selected and discarded, but also for its ideological grounds. “The budget has failed to ignite an intellectual discourse,” said lawmaker Pampha Bhusal.
“I don’t prefer speaking about the budget because it is not going to change it. Our concerns go unheard. Even in this new era of a federal republic, we are presenting the same old style budget that we have been presenting since the Panchayat days,” said Bhusal.
“If the finance minister does not incorporate our suggestions into the budget, then it means we are following the tradition of the Panchayat, and the multiparty democracy headed by the monarchy,” said Bhusal.
Opposition lawmakers also expressed several concerns over the budget saying that some of its targets and objectives were not possible to meet.
“We had a chance to transform this Covid crisis into an opportunity, but we failed,”said Nepali Congress leader and shadow Finance Minister Minendra Rijal. “The budget could not allocate funds required at the local levels to fight Covid,” said Rijal.
“To fight Covid, the finance minister has allocated just Rs 6 billion, the amount will only be enough to conduct tests,” said Rijal. “Where is the plan and money to provide relief to the people?” Rijal asked.
Other opposition leaders Prakashman Singh, Jitendra Dev, Rajendra Mahato, Balkrishna Khad criticised some of the provisions of the budget calling them unrealistic and conservative.
The budget was prepared with a “ colonial mindset”, said Mahato. “The government thinks that it is the king and others are beggars,” he said, adding that the budget was meant for the ruling class, and not for the oppressed.
Dev said that it was impossible to achieve a seven percent growth in view of the current economic crisis. “I will retire from politics if the government archives the kind of growth it aims to achieve,” he declared.
Meanwhile, the discussions also saw lawmakers demand a budget for the Kalapani area recently incorporated into the country’s map.