Deuba, Dahal have much to answer in finance minister case, observers saySharma’s reappointment as finance minister points to a bigger and sinister nexus beneath the veneer of alliance the prime minister and Maoist chair harp on about.
That Janardan Sharma could return to the Finance Ministry was by and large clear on July 6 itself, the day he resigned after the Parliament formed a committee to probe charges that he had employed outsiders to tweak tax rates on the eve of the annual budget presentation day.
As public perception grew against Sharma with the probe panel turning into a farce, many wondered if Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba would take the risk of appointing the former Maoist commander as finance minister again.
But on Sunday, the President, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Deuba, appointed Sharma as finance minister, two days after the committee submitted its report exonerating him of the charges. Earlier in the morning, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chair of the CPN (Maoist Centre), decided to send Sharma again as finance minister. Deuba could not resist.
The appointment has laid bare many facets of the nexus between Deuba and Dahal that is hidden beneath the veneer of political alliance, observers say. According to them, bringing Sharma back to the Finance Ministry shows how crucial a link he has been between Deuba and Dahal.
Daman Nath Dhungana, a civil society campaigner and former House Speaker, says both Deuba and Dahal have given ample room to raise questions about their intention behind reappointing Sharma.
“The prime minister should have told his coalition partner leader to change the person for the finance minister post,” Dhungana told the Post. “This incident also shows degradation of culture and values in Nepali politics and how even top politicians are promoting cronyism.”
According to Dhungana, the development shows that there was an understanding among coalition leaders that they would bring back Sharma after the so-called investigation.
The Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre make odd partners. But they joined hands last year to oust CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli as prime minister.
The current government led by Deuba and backed by Dahal was formed with a promise to “establish the rule of law in the country,” which the Congress and the Maoist Centre said was repeatedly under attack from the Oli government.
But the Deuba government over the last year has done exactly what the Oli government did, experts say, adding that at times it has even surpassed the previous government in wrongdoings, and Sharma’s reappointment is an absolute disregard of public opinion.
According to Jhalak Subedi, a political commentator, Dahal seems to have taken the recent incident also as a prestige issue because Sharma was forced to resign.
“Dahal is also under extreme pressure to manage factions within the party. He may have been afraid Sharma could create trouble for him, so by sending him to the government, he is trying to manage leaders,” Subedi, who has followed left politics for decades, told the Post. “For Deuba, Sharma seems to be a comfortable person who can serve his interests.”
Sharma’s reappointment has not gone down well with politicians from both the Maoist party and the Nepali Congress, of which Deuba is the president, just as the main opposition CPN-UML is crying foul.
At least three Standing Committee members of the Maoist Centre expressed serious concerns about Dahal’s decision to resend Sharma, saying that he didn’t even take the issue to the Standing Committee for discussions.
“I’m against this decision,” said one Standing Committee member asking not to be named fearing retribution. “The issue was neither discussed at the party nor at any party committee. This decision will not do good to the party.”
Lekhnath Neupane, a Central Committee member of the Maoist Centre, said after the report of the parliamentary panel, it would have been better for the party to avoid sending Sharma again.
“Though there is no room for the party to correct its decision, my personal view is that the question being raised against the party would continue and that could affect the party,” said Neupane.
The charge that Sharma had brought in two unauthorised persons to the Finance Ministry on the night of May 28 to alter tax rates to benefit some interest groups was the latest in a series of controversies he has had a brush with since he was first appointed finance minister in July last year.
It was the UML that strongly demanded a probe committee, but it was largely a failure, with experts saying its investigation approach was wrong from the outset. The way the committee functioned and produced its report has left more questions than provided answers it was supposed to.
Many Congress leaders said that they were surprised by the decision to reappoint a controversial figure as the finance minister. This move, just ahead of the elections, could be detrimental to the party, according to them.
“The prime minister may have been avoiding vexing Dahal in the lead up to the elections, but he should have taken public perceptions into account, as public opinion matters during polls,” said Pradip Poudel, a Congress leader. “Now by reappointing Sharma, the prime minister has given the public room to believe that he wanted him as finance minister. This may hugely affect us during elections.”
The current coalition led by Deuba, whose key partner is Dahal, has three other supporters—the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
But it’s Deuba and Dahal who rule the roost, at times much to the chagrin of the Unified Socialist, led by Madhav Nepal who splintered from Oli’s UML in August last year.
The alliance between Deuba and Dahal is such that they need each other at least for the upcoming elections, and observers say they are behaving like a bull in a china shop.
Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chief election commissioner and a good governance campaigner, said Sharma’s reappointment may give short-term advantages to Deuba and Dahal but in the long run, it is going to be counterproductive.
“The question now is what this glue is that is keeping Deuba and Dahal so steadfastly together. Is it Sharma? If so, why?” said Pokharel. “There must be something that the prime minister had to choose such a controversial figure, whose performance has been in question, for the post of finance minister.”
According to Pokharel, Nepali politicians are stooping to new levels by the day.
“In our country, politicians form a government chiding the previous one for wrongdoings,” said Pokharel. “But when they come to power, instead of fixing the wrongs, they give continuity to all the wrongs that they once criticised. The current government is just an example.”
Subedi too believes the move of bringing Sharma back as finance minister may help Deuba and Dahal for now, but they have to pay a price when time comes.
“Politics is a long process,” said Subedi. “Elections are approaching and people are watching. It’s the people who will give their verdict from the ballots.”