EDITORIAL: Listen to lawmakers

The upcoming fiscal budget must be prepared based on the suggestions given by lawmakers during the pre-budget debates

The pre-budget discussion in the Parliament concluded on Tuesday, with the ruling parties backing the policy outlines and the opposition calling it simply a ritual, nothing to expect anything new in the upcoming fiscal budget, scheduled to be presented on May 28. The mandatory pre-budget debates started shortly after the government’s policies and programmes were endorsed on May 7. The idea behind holding the pre-budget debates is to solicit feedback from the lawmakers from both the benches before the finance minister presents the fiscal budget. Some common suggestions the lawmakers made to Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada were that the budget should be allocated to the national pride projects, whose detailed feasibility studies have already been carried out and were in the final stage of execution; that the budget should not be dispersed to populist and petty projects that do not yield any tangible results, and the capital expenditure should not be overambitious. However, it may also be noted that the lawmakers from both the aisles were found lobbying with the finance minister to increase the pork barrel fund from Rs 40 million to Rs 100 million, a move widely criticised by all sides before the start of the pre-budget debates.

Taking part in the pre-budget discussion, Nepali Congress lawmaker Pradeep Giri, a socialist thinker, drew the attention of the entire House, including the ruling party lawmakers, by asking a seminal question to the finance minister whether he wanted to achieve ‘economic growth’ or ‘sustainable development’. While praising Khatiwada for emphasising on “sustainable development” in his pre-budget outlines, Giri further asked, “Is it possible to achieve both? Aren’t they two different things?” Giri was actually trying to remind the finance minister about the latter’s confusion with the two terms. Giri said sustainable development could lead to a socialist society, as envisaged by the new constitution, while economic growth alone may not. These are the issues all lawmakers, the government and the finance minister himself must be clear about before preparing the fiscal budget, which, Giri said, was essentially political economy.

Replying to Giri’s queries, Khatiwada said the fiscal budget would be inclined towards sustainable economic growth, ensuring social justice and be based on the country’s needs. However, the most worrying fact is that the pre-budget debates largely remain a formality as the finance minister hardly lends his ear to the lawmakers’ suggestions. The lawmakers also need to do enough homework, and their feedback should be realistic. The finance minister must be ready to incorporate the suggestions offered by the opposition if they help achieve sustainable growth. One of the drawbacks of the parliamentary polity is that no senior leader from either side seriously takes part in the discussions on the government policies, budget and bills that can have long-term consequences for the nation. Generally, the leaders are found focussed more on petty issues while leaving other crucial national issues unaddressed. The Parliament is a sovereign body where the lawmakers must discuss national issues with utmost seriousness, rising above their partisan interests.

Dog at work

Criminal activities are getting more and more complex, and the police will need to introduce newer methods and sophisticated technology to stay one step ahead of the criminals. A sniffer dog put to use at the domestic terminal of the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) uncovered a small amount of hashish - 3.5 grams - from a passenger the other day. It’s not easy for the customs to seize small amounts of drugs, and that is where sniffer dogs come handy.

The TIA has earned a bad name for becoming a transit point for transnational drug traffickers. It alone accounts for half of all drug seizures in the country. But following the deployment of sniffer dogs round the clock at the airport, remarkable success has been achieved in controlling the movement of illegal drugs. The very presence of the sniffer dogs at the only international airport and other regional airports should deter drug traffickers from using them to transport drugs from one place to another. The TIA is also known for the smuggling of other goods, namely gold. Despite seizure of gold in large volumes in recent times, its smuggling has not stopped. Could the sniffer dogs help put an end to it also?