Mahat denies involvement of any unauthorised person in the budget making processOpposition lawmakers had sought clarification from the finance minister regarding the involvement of a retired finance ministry staff member in the budget-making process.
Disputes between the ruling and opposition parties over whether an unauthorised person was allowed in the budget-making process disrupted the parliamentary proceedings on Tuesday.
The House of Representatives was supposed to start theoretical discussions on the national budget at 11 am. The meeting couldn’t commence on time after the CPN-UML, Rastriya Swatantra Party and Rastriya Prajatantra Party decided not to allow the House to function until the finance minister clarified the matter and a parliamentary probe committee was formed.
Following hours of discussions among the parties, the house commenced at around 2 pm on the condition that Minister for Finance Prakash Sharan Mahat will clarify the matter. Before Mahat presented his clarification, lawmakers of the UML and the Swatantra Party asked why a retired finance ministry staff member was involved in the budget-making process. Giving a reference that 1,100 electric vehicles were imported just a few days before the budget day, they also asked who leaked the tax rates.
Mahat told the House that there was no external influence in the budget making process. He said only the finance minister and officials authorised by the law were involved in the budget-making process. “There is a law to guide those who are involved in finalising the budget. I say with authority that no additional persons were present while finalising the budget, including tax rates,” said Mahat.
Ram Krishna Shrestha, a retired finance ministry worker, was employed just for uploading data and budget typing.
Mahat said his predecessor had hired Shrestha, who has knowledge of harmonised codes, as an expert. “His responsibility was to type the budget and enter the harmonised code. He has been doing the job for decades and is regarded as a competent person with high integrity,” said Mahat.
Mahat had succeeded Bishnu Poudel, a UML vice-chair, as the finance minister.
Addressing the House, Mahat also clarified that the tax rates for electric vehicles with a capacity below 100 watts were increased to harmonise with the ones with higher power. “I cannot say why hundreds of electric vehicles were imported close to the budget day. However, I can assure this House that the tax rates were not leaked,” he added.
Presenting its views after Mahat’s clarification, the main opposition said it was not fully convinced as there are instances of import just before the budget presentation of some of the goods whose tax rates were hiked. “Yet, we give the benefit of doubt to the government,” said UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli, who is also the leader of the opposition. Oli, however, accused the government of discouraging the agriculture sector and claimed that the government’s aim of a six percent economic growth in the next year was impossible to meet.
The UML and other opposition parties had demanded a parliamentary committee to investigate the involvement of the unauthorised person. However, they gave up their demand after Mahat agreed to clarify the matter in the House.
This is not the first time that the government has been accused of allowing unauthorised persons in budget making and revising the tax rates at the behest of some business houses.
A parliamentary probe committee was formed to investigate whether then-finance minister Janardan Sharma allowed unauthorised persons in the budget making process. The committee later gave a clean chit to Sharma.