Perhaps having once led a guerrilla army to overthrow the state, Finance Minister Janardan Sharma found it much easier to bat away charges of working for vested interests while drafting the national budget. He was accused of bringing in a pair of unauthorized personnel into the Ministry of Finance the night before budget-presentation. The pair, as first reported in Annapurna Post, proceeded to dictate certain tax and excise rates to top ministry officials. The rates they set later appeared in the national budget. Sharma denies the charges. The best way to establish his innocence would have been to make public the ministry’s CCTV footage of the night. But when requested to produce the footage, the ministry put out an astonishing statement that the 13-day-old record had been deleted: legally, government bodies are required to keep such records for at least three months. The malafide intent of Sharma and his cronies in the ministry was thus established.
Such a grave breach of law called for Sharma’s immediate sacking and the start of a judicial inquiry. The public image of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government was deteriorating the longer the tainted finance minister stayed in office. More than that, if there was to be no consequences for such open misuse of power, people’s belief in rule of law would have been shattered.
A lot was at stake. If the taxes people paid with their hard-earned money were being so brazenly misused, tomorrow they would have all the right in the world to stop paying. Again, Sharma’s wrongdoing had strained the delicate trust between the government and the electorate. Thankfully, he has now stepped down and a parliamentary probe against him has been started. What we want is an impartial investigation and if he is found guilty, legal measures befitting the crime. At the same time, the tax and excise rates that appeared in the national budget at the insistence of vested interests must be changed in the interest of the people. This wonderful opportunity to set a strong precedent for Nepal’s present and future rulers must not be lost.