If the ‘white paper’ made public by the finance minister Bharat Mohan Adhikary (BMA) the day before is anything to go by, the New Nepali Year 2068 that starts from today will witness another round of Bharat Mohanomics- a mix of unproductive and distributive budget allocations, expansionary fiscal/monetary measures and populist programs, aimed at draining the exchequer for partisan gains. Also, unwarranted favors to business persons often granted at the expense of national interests and party-ization of bureaucracy, especially of the revenue service, will continue. However, this time the main beneficiary of Bharat Mohanomics will be the Maoists with whom he has closer links in recent times than with his own party, the infighting CPN-UML.
While economists prioritize their investment needs and/or use the scarce resources prudently to manage unlimited ends with limited means, a politician probably does neither; moreover, a bad politician will do the opposite of both. More often than not, finance ministers are a mixed breed of politician and economist. However, when they are more politicians than economists, as is often the case, the economy suffers. So do the people who guard the economy, for example, senior officials/advisors in finance ministry, governors of central banks, regulatory authorities of financial, capital and money markets, keeper of the treasury/public finance, officials of government owned banks and financial institutions and so on. Although most of them surrender to the wishes of the politicians, a few paragons of virtue, like Rameshwor Khanal (RK), revolt.
A fifth time minister and fourth time finance minister, BMA has hardly ever proved his worth as an economist, although he has every credential of a shrewd and successful politician. To quote Bimal Koirala- former chief secretary and his one time aide- he is a political-businessman and an unreliable person. Like him, his predecessors, Surendra Pandey and Baburam Bhattarai too were not economists by discipline; but despite being first-timers both did a good job mainly because they kept the economy free of corrupt, partisan and populist politics.
In our country, proletariat’s parties like CPN-UML or UCPN-Maoist have always been much wealthier than bourgeois parties. Paradoxically, a big chunk of finance of those parties comes from negotiated or forced donations received from the capitalist class in exchange of the favor the latter receives from them. The Maoist leadership now wants to benefit from BMA’s skills and experience in this regard the way CPN-UML benefited from it in the past.
And, favors could be anything. They could be the waiver of fines or penalties for willful evasion of large amounts of VAT or a general amnesty for any VAT related crimes, an accusation denied by BMA. Besides him, a renowned business tycoon, who is also a constituent assembly member representing CPN-UML, has gone to the length of publishing an article in a leading daily to clarify his position on the matter. He has denied the rumors that his group of business has been cheating VAT. He has also refuted the charge that he has been lobbying on behalf of the business community to influence the ongoing actions/investigations against the tax evaders.
A fifth time minister and fourth time finance minister, BMA, has hardly ever proved his worth as an economist, although he has every credential of a shrewd and successful politician. To quote Bimal Koirala- former chief secretary and his one time aide- he is a political-businessman and an unreliable person.
According to him, his ‘excellent rapport with BMA’ is only because, he as the president of FNCCI first publicly declared trust in the then CPN-UML government in 1995, when many from the business community were skeptic about the latter’s attitude toward them. Well, that might be true as institutional support like that coming from the head of the private sector’s umbrella organization may have been very valuable for the newly elected communist government which was trying to win the support of the business community. But what about the permission hastily and directly granted by BMA bypassing all proper channels and due procedures to sell the promoter’s share of the pioneer foreign investor of nation’s second ranking joint-venture bank (NABIL) to the tycoon in question that aroused suspicions of misgivings- the write-up is silent on the deal that took place around the same time (1995-96).
Had CPN-UML been a true representative of the proletariat, it would have looked after their interests, however unsustainable that might be. Had it fully changed into a liberal social democratic party it would balance the interests of all groups- rich, middle class and poor. At the moment it is neither as its origin and orientation are communist, but its new ethos and ethic (if any) are capitalist. The party is not clear on whose interests to serve; hence, it serves the interests of its own party men. And since it is no more a traditional communist party, its party men could be anybody, as evident in the recently held election of FNCCI officials- from tycoons to tax evaders; except, that they cannot be of the type of RKs.
As for the bypassing of formal structure or bureaucracy, such practices are not a big deal for BMA and his party. Both have a track record of bringing party affiliated ‘specialists’ from Nepal Rastra Bank and elsewhere on deputation who formulate budget and important policy matters virtually bypassing the official structure within the ministry. Although Surendra Pandey, also from CPN-UML, tried to phase out the practice, BMA not only revived the trend, but also arranged and authorized people having no official authority to formulate supplementary budget in secret locations; this time he also appointed a private sector employee as his personal secretary, authorizing him access to confidential meetings and documents- one of the reasons of RK’s resignation.
Traditionally, communists do not bother about terms like feasibility, viability and sustainability of any economic undertaking; they are alien and bourgeoisie concepts for them. While economists look for higher returns on investment, sociologists look for better social benefit from the project and environmentalists look for higher achievements on conservation, communists look for short-term gains that woo and/or win the masses while appropriating the taxpayers’ money. The now aborted supplementary budget was full of populist projects and distributive dole-outs that would benefit the party’s cadres and constituencies in one way or other at the cost of economic stability; hence RK, who rightly believed in capital formation (for productive investment), resigned.
Although CPN-UML has come a long way from the days of pie-in-the-sky promises such as 4 bighas of land and 1 tola of gold to every family, BMA seems all set to table a distributive and populist annual budget at the behest of the Maoists, as he says his next budget will be full of ‘miracles’ and also as his ‘white paper’ indicates.
Similarly, interference and penetration into bureaucracy in everything from recruitment to placement to punishment to promotion to retirement has been a favorite modus operandi of CPN-UML, especially when it comes to lucrative positions in revenue offices.
Whether or not BMA has licked his fingers while harvesting honey for his party, is something his bosses alone, who appointed him finance minister can reveal. He however, in a bid to prove his integrity, has stated that he is living in a rented house as he does not possess a house of his own. Fine: Why, then, is his name marred by so many controversies while Baburam Bhattarai and Surendra Pandey’s name were never associated with any scandals like NABIL Bank, VAT or supplementary budget?