Kathmandu: Politicians know the reality. Some influential leaders of Nepali Congress and CPN Maoist-Center privately confess that Janardan Sharma was involved in engaging unauthorized persons to tweak the tax rate.
So why does Janardan Sharma, who had recently faced the allegation of financial crime, dare to come back? To this and every other question, cronyism has been institutionalized in Nepal.
Sharma was the one who mishandled the country’s economy. Sharma was the one who suspended the governor of the central bank after the latter refused to bow down to the pressure from the finance minister to serve the interests of the business groups. Sharma was the one who involved the outsiders to tweak tax provisions in the budget document. Sharma was the one who refused to cooperate in the investigation process. Sharma was the one who denied furnishing the CCTV footage of the day when he allegedly allowed the outsiders in an entry into the ministry to tweak the tax provisions.
In other words, Sharma was the one who tried to mock the whole rule of law and game the system to benefit a few corporate interest groups at the cost of the taxpayers.
But he has been given a clean chit by the parliamentary committee in the most serious case of financial crime.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Sunday reappointed the tainted Janardan Sharma to lead the Finance Ministry, at a time when the country stands on the verge of impending economic crisis, and when Nepal needs someone with expertise, knowledge and wisdom on how to handle the economy in crisis times.
Janardan Sharma’s involvement in financial crime and acquittal by the parliamentary committee resembles a plot of a crime novel.
Crime and reward
Sharma made every attempt to hide the evidence of the crime he committed. The ruling parties—Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Center) and CPN (Unified Socialist)—aided him and worked extra miles to prove him innocent.
The involvement of unauthorized persons by Janardan Sharma in altering the tax provisions in the budget draft was reported by Annapurna Post, a Nepali language daily newspaper.
Sharma first denied the allegation. Then when the parliamentarians demanded that his involvement should be investigated and that CCTV footage of the day needs to be recovered, he challenged the parliamentarians and main opposition CPN-UML leaders by saying: “Who are they to see the CCTV footage?”
Then in mysterious circumstances, the Finance Ministry on July 3 claimed that CCTV footage of May 28 had been deleted, citing that the CCTV has the capacity to store footage for only 13 days.
The legal provision that CCTV footage should be preserved for at least three months was clearly breached.
The dramatic twist in the case occurred when the parliamentary probe committee started the investigation.
First we were told the CCTV footage would be recovered. It never was. Then some of the parliamentarians demanded an investigation into his call details. It was not followed citing privacy law.
An 11 member parliamentary special committee, comprising four lawmakers from the CPN-UML, two each from the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre, and one each from the CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party, and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, was formed on July 6 to probe the incident.
Sharma then stepped down.
Gaming the system
The composition of the parliamentary investigation committee was questionable. Except four lawmakers from the main opposition UML, other members are from the ruling parties themselves.
The suspicion was rife that the probe committee would finally give a clean chit to Sharma.
The worst fear came true on Friday when the probe committee submitted the report which concluded that Sharma had done no wrong, without conducting thorough investigation.
The clean chit was given by majority members invariably from the ruling parties. Members belonging to UML had rejected the report.
Besides, the demand that Sharma’s call details should also be investigated was not addressed.
Mockery of the system
The government reappointed the tainted man as the finance minister on Sunday as if there were no other better candidates within the ruling Nepali Congress to head the Ministry of Finance at this time of crisis.
First, the committee did not take hold of the CCTV footage hard disk which could help reveal whether the outsiders had made an entry into the Ministry on May 28.
Neither the Committee investigated where the former government official and a Chartered Accountant (CA), believed to be involved in the budget tweak, were. Their call details were not investigated either, nor their locations of the day were tracked.
The Committee, which started the work on July 12, had demanded the CCTV footage from the Ministry of Finance on July 13. The Ministry provided the footage from July 1 to July 14 to the Committee.
This appeared to be making fun of the Committee’s request, for the alleged incident of budget misappropriation had taken place on May 28.
Unfortunately, none of the political parties spoke a word against the government’s decision to reappoint a person, tainted, tried tested and found wanting, to the post of Finance Minister.
While ruling Nepali Congress, Maoist Center, Unified Socialist, Janata Samajbadi Party look happy to have Sharma back in the Ministry, main opposition CPN-UML does not seem to be vehemently opposing the move.
Within Nepali Congress too silence envelops the scene. None of the Nepali Congress leaders, some of whom are better qualified to become the finance minister than Janardan Sharma, pressured the PM not to reappoint Sharma.