On finance minister, who has courted controversy, Deuba, Dahal hem and hawPrime minister wants Maoist Centre to make a move, but the ruling partner is buying time given own internal issues.
Amid widespread calls to sack the controversy-ridden finance minister, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal have agreed to decide the fate of Janardan Sharma latest by Thursday.
During a meeting with Sharma at the prime minister’s residence at Baluwatar on Tuesday evening, both Deuba and Dahal asked him to resign and pave the way for appointing a new finance minister, a source privy to the development said.
Sharma, who has been embroiled in a series of controversies, is accused of inviting two unauthorised persons to tweak tax rates just a day before he presented the budget in Parliament.
The main opposition has demanded a parliamentary probe.
Chairman Dahal went to meet Prime Minister Deuba on Tuesday evening along with Sharma and discussed ways to resolve the controversy. At the meeting, attended by Deuba, Dahal and Sharma only, the two leaders asked Sharma to make a graceful exit.
According to a source, Prime Minister Deuba categorically asked Dahal to recall Sharma.
But Dahal asked Deuba to wait for some more days saying the former has to manage internal dynamics as the party has assigned him to appoint office bearers and politburo members among others.
“The chairman told me that his meeting with the prime minister went well,” senior Maoist leader Haribol Gajurel, who had a conversation with Dahal after the meeting with Deuba, said. “The chairman told us to wait till Wednesday evening.”
At the meeting, according to the sources, both leaders discussed ways to settle the row amicably.
Dahal’s ‘internal dynamics’ is related to his party where he is under pressure to elect office bearers and Central Committee members as well as form the Standing Committee and the politburo.
Sharma is eying the post of general secretary while Barshaman Pun, who also has served as finance minister in the past, seems to be Dahal’s first choice.
But Dahal’s reluctance to recall Sharma just as Deuba seems to be helpless indicates that there are quite some complications, including some individual interests.
Despite calls from various sections for Sharma to step down as he got embroiled in scandals one after another, the Cabinet, the prime minister, the ruling alliance and Sharma’s party, Maoist Centre have maintained a tactical silence on the latest controversy over permitting outsiders and intermediaries to tweak tax rates on the eve of the budget presentation day in May.
If the understanding between Deuba and Dahal was good, then Finance Minister Sharma is likely to step down by Wednesday or Thursday and he will be given an important position in the party, according to a Central Committee member of the Maoist party.
“In that case, Barshaman Pun, who is keen to hold the position, is likely to return to the Finance Ministry,” the leader said.
Ruling party leaders told the Post that Deuba is in a fix, as he doesn’t want to take any action without the consent from Dahal fearing that the coalition could break down.
Deuba has consulted with many leaders of his party several times and discussed a possible course of action to remove Sharma as the image of the government has been tarnished due to Sharma’s actions, according to a senior Nepali Congress leader.
But the prime minister wants the Maoist Centre itself to make a move and recall Sharma rather than taking a decision to oust him.
“Since Sharma worked closely with Deuba to ensure the parliamentary passage of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact in February, the prime minister holds Sharma in high regard and is not prepared to do the dirty job of sacking him,” the Congress leader said.
Another reason why Deuba likes Sharma is his view in support of continuing the ruling alliance as he is opposed to the idea of forming a leftist alliance between the Maoist Centre and the CPN-UML.
Although he was one of the architects of the leftist alliance in 2017, Sharma is currently dead against such an alliance with the UML and this is another reason why Deuba is appreciative of him, according to the leader.
Nepali Congress leaders said that Deuba has been quietly watching the controversial actions of his ministers but wanted the respective political parties themselves to do the needful.
“The activities of the ministers are not beyond the ambit of the prime minister,” said Congress spokesman Prakash Sharan Mahat, adding, “And their activities should not cross the limits of the law.”
“Our party has not discussed the issue [involving Minister Sharma] yet. But any minister from any party must be aware of his responsibilities and limits. If anyone has crossed his limits, he must be made accountable,” Mahat said after the party’s office bearers meeting on Tuesday.
During a meeting of former Standing Committee members on Tuesday, Dahal said that he will take appropriate decisions with regard to Sharma after consulting Deuba and Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota.
The main opposition UML has been demanding a parliamentary probe into the charges that Sharma allowed two unauthorised persons to tweak tax rates just ahead of the budget. Speaker Sapkota, however, has not issued any ruling in this regard.
Nepali Congress leaders including General Secretary Gagan Thapa have publicly demanded Sharma’s sacking. There are also calls from civil society members to recall Sharma and investigate the involvement of unauthorised persons in tweaking some tax rates.
In response to the demand for the CCTV footage of the night when Sharma allegedly invited two outsiders to tweak tax rates, the Finance Ministry has said that it got erased because the record of only 13 days remains in the storage. The response has raised multiple questions.
Also, civil society members have demanded Sharma’s resignation and a fair probe into the incident.
On Tuesday, six former vice chairmen of the National Planning Commission (NPC) demanded an investigation into the charges of budget tampering.
Former NPC vice chairmen Prithvi Raj Ligal, Jagadish Chandra Pokhrel, Yubaraj Khatiwada, Dinesh Chandra Devkota, Govinda Raj Pokhrel and Pushpa Kadel have demanded that the government take concrete measures to tackle the ongoing economic crisis.
“We former vice chairmen [of the NPC] urge the government to come forward with a concrete plan to resolve the current crisis in the economy and urge the Cabinet, Parliament and constitutional bodies to properly investigate the issues raised regarding the budget,” they said in a statement on Tuesday.