If no consensus, Govt. ready to revise statute bill: Mahara
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Krishna Bahadur Mahara is an influential leader of the ruling CPN-Maoist Centre. DPM Mahara is also considered to be one of the architects of the current coalition government that mustered the support of the agitating Madhesi parties on condition that it would amend the constitution to address their demands. But the constitution amendment proposal, registered in the parliament, has created a political impasse with the opposition parties, disrupting the House continuously and the Madhesi parties going into a huff over its contents. The proposal to split the hilly districts from the Terai in Province No. 5 triggered an explosion of protests across the said province. Even some ruling party stalwarts threatened to cross the floor if the amendment was put to a vote. But DPM Mahara denies such a possibility.
Talking to Yogesh Pokharel of The Rising Nepal, he said: "There are no problems within the ruling parties with regard to the amendment." Mahara spoke on issues regarding the amendment, possibility of holding the local elections and preparations for the supplementary budget, among others.
The government has registered the amendment proposal in the parliament. Are you confident that the House will endorse it?
The government has registered the amendment bill. It has created a kind of ripple in national politics. There is no problem in the ruling alliance as it was registered following a consensus among them. The main opposition, the CPN-UML, is totally against it while the Madhes-centric parties have extended critical support to it. They have neither fully agreed on the amendment nor opposed it completely. There have mixed views on the amendment.
What is the position of the amendment bill at present? What will be its fate?
We are still in negotiations with the Madhes-centric parties and the main opposition. The government wants to forge consensus on the amendment bill so as to clear the way for holding the local elections to implement the constitution. We are making efforts to forge consensus among all the major political parties, if not all, by revising the amendment proposal itself. We are looking for alternatives, and the government is as flexible as possible for garnering consensus.
The proposal of splitting Province No. 5 has become a hot issue, and people have been staging protests against it. Even the leaders of your party and ruling partners have opposed it and demanded that it be withdrawn. How will you deal with this situation?
We have already decided to split Province No. 5 to bring the disgruntled groups, especially the Madhes-centric parties, on board. Yes, some leaders within the party have objected to the party's decision. However, the party's decision is final, and it will be executed. It will be split as proposed in the amendment bill if the Madhes-centric parties agree on the new demarcation. The disagreement within the party will be managed later.
The government is said to be engaged in holding the local level election by withholding the amendment proposal. Is it true?
We have to take 3-4 major political steps at the moment. The first is constitution amendment to bring the disgruntled groups, especially the Madhes-centric parties, into the main political process by addressing their demands. The second is state restructuring, especially of the local level. The Local Body Restructuring Commission is working on it. And the third is holding elections based on the report of the Commission. We all have almost agreed on the issues of holding the elections and state restructuring based on the recommendation of the Commission. But for this, we should take the discontented groups into confidence to create an environment for the elections. Therefore, we have proposed amending the constitution first.
When will the government announce the date of the local elections?
Most probably the elections will be held in April next year. So the dates will be announced three months prior to that. The government will announce the date for the elections by mid-January.
The Ministry of Finance is working to bring a supplementary budget. Could you shed light on it?
The current fiscal year budget was unveiled prior to the formation of the present government in August. Every government has its own programmes, policies and expectations. There is a provision of bringing a supplementary budget in the constitution, too. So it is natural to bring a supplementary budget. The Prime Minister has already announced new programmes in his address in the parliament, such as 'government to the poor' and providing additional grants to the earthquake victims, among others. The Ministry of Finance is working to present the supplementary budget for managing additional funds for these programmes. It will not be a full-fledged budget. Besides, we have also a few unused funds from the previous year. That's why we are going to bring the supplementary budget.
However, it is not the sole issue related to the Ministry of Finance. It is a political issue. We need to present it in the parliament and get endorsed by it. The political parties should agree on this. Therefore, we are also holding talks with the main opposition for garnering its support on this. It is a common issue related to development. There should be consensus among the political parties on the development agenda. Besides, I do not want to distort the budget fully. We will bring a small supplementary budget.
It has been more than 4 months since you took charge of the Ministry of Finance. What is your experience?
There are many challenges facing the Ministry of Finance. The economic growth of the country is very low, which is the main challenge. There was economic growth of more than 8 per cent, however, it dropped to below 1 per cent last year. This is mainly due to the low development expenditure. We need to increase economic activities for this. Therefore, I called all the concerned authorities of the development ministries and directed them to speed up their activities to increase the development expenditure. The Prime Minister himself has laid great emphasis on national pride projects and has been giving directives time and again to expedite the project works. We are focusing on completing the administrative processes by the first quarter and then bust a gut to implement the projects/programmes from the beginning of the second quarter.
Slow progress in the development projects and low development expenditure pose a stumbling block to the targeted economic growth. What are you doing to resolve this issue?
Yes, despite all efforts by the Ministry of Finance, progress in the development projects is not satisfactory. As you know, this is not the direct implementing agency. It has no rights in the execution of the programmes. It can only prod the other ministries to accelerate their works. For this, we have already directed the ministries to complete the contracts and other procedural works of large projects by the first quarter of the current fiscal year. I have instructed the senior officials at the ministry to facilitate the other ministries so as to increase the development expenditure.
You said that the ministry has been working to facilitate the development programmes by releasing the necessary funds. However, there were news reports that the ministry did not release the funds for the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). What is your take?
It is not true. The NRA already has more than Rs. 144 billion in unused funds. Besides, we released Rs. 21 billion only a few days ago. The problem is not of money. The problem lies with the procedure, which is really difficult. It needs to work and spend in line with the standards set by the donor agencies and development partners, which are lengthy and challenging.