House panel presents report absolving ex-finance minister Sharma of tax tweak chargesAmid speculations Sharma could return to the job, Maoist leader Pun says choice is his.
After 17 days of investigations, the parliamentary special committee has submitted its report to the House of Representatives giving a clean chit to former finance minister Janardan Sharma, who had allegedly allowed unauthorised persons to tweak taxes in the budget.
With the absolution from the parliamentary panel, questions are being raised whether former finance minister Sharma will return to the ministry.
“On the basis of discussions with office bearers of the Finance Ministry, responses and documents received from the ministry, study of the CCTV footage available and the facts found and evidence collected during the study, no unauthorised person was found to have been involved in tampering with tax rates,” the committee concludes, dismissing the allegations that tax rates were changed in the annual budget under unnecessary influence from business groups.
Panel chair Laxman Lal Karna presented the report at the second meeting of the House of Representatives on Friday.
The panel also noted that even if the special committee did nothing particular on the issue, regular parliamentary committees would continuously study the effects of the tax rates on the country’s economy.
However, four members of the panel representing the main opposition CPN-UML have presented their views differing from the panel’s report, stressing that circumstantial evidence suggested the entry of unauthorised persons as top Finance Ministry officials gave finishing touches to the annual budget on the eve of its presentation in Parliament on May 29.
The four members have pointed out various reasons that prevented the panel from carrying out an extensive investigation into the alleged entry of unauthorised persons.
According to their note of dissent on the report, not studying the phone call details and locations of the suspected unauthorised person, not providing CCTV footage of the time of the incident in its proper form, Finance Ministry not providing the details of the persons involved in preparing the budget, hurdles created to prevent enquiry of security officers who were on duty in the night of the incident, and the refusal of the probe members representing the ruling parties to discuss with stakeholders the effects of the tax tweaks were some of the reasons that botched the investigation.
The four members have accused the members of the ruling parties of reluctance in making sincere attempts to collect evidence of the entry of unauthorised persons. They have argued that their reluctance to trace the suspects’ mobile locations, which could have been helpful in tracing the unauthorised persons’ entry, despite a clear mention of the process in the panel’s guidelines.
They have also noted that experts had told the panel members that the recovered footage of other dates were in better forms.
With the panel submitting its report absolving Sharma, his party leaders have said since the ex-finance minister has been portrayed as innocent, the party has not thought of sending anyone else to the Finance Ministry.
Barshaman Pun, a CPN (Maoist Centre) leader and lawmaker, told journalists after the meeting of the House of Representatives, “Now it’s up to Sharma whether he wants to return [to the Finance Ministry] or not. He has not spoken about it yet.”
Sharma resigned on the same day after the House formed the 11-member committee on July 6.
However, the party has yet to discuss the issue even though its Standing Committee met on Friday morning. Another meeting is scheduled for Sunday.
“We are yet to discuss [whom to appoint] the finance minister,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a senior leader of the party.
Maoist Centre chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal recently said in a public event that he had asked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to wait for some time before declaring the dates for the federal and provincial elections. Dahal said the prime minister had told him that the government was preparing to declare the date for elections.
Once the government announces the election date, it will become caretaker and cannot take crucial decisions including the appointment of ministers.
Ramesh Malla, chief personal secretary to Dahal, said Sharma was sure to resume his duty as finance minister unless the Standing Committee decides otherwise.