If the past is any guide, then Finance Minister Janardan Sharma should resign on moral grounds

The Supreme Court's short-term stay order against the suspension of Nepal Rastra Bank Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari has put the Finance Minister in a moral dilemma. And if the past is any guide, then Finance Minister Janardan Sharma should resign on moral grounds. The apex court will, however, be hearing both the government and governor sides on April 26 before it issues an interim order against Adhikari's suspension. On Sunday, Adhikari had filed a writ petition at the SC demanding his reinstatement and challenging the government's decision to form an inquiry committee to probe allegations against him. The government had suspended Adhikari on April 7 and decided to form a three-member committee to probe allegations that he had leaked sensitive government information to the media and had not executed his duties satisfactorily.

While the government has every right to launch a probe against the governor, it is widely suspected that it acted with malafide intent.

It is no secret that Finance Minister Sharma and Adhikari were at loggerheads over many issues, with the former accusing the latter for the country's economic downturn and liquidity crunch. However, Adhikari is said to have suggested to the government to control imports in order to save dwindling foreign exchange reserves, but the minister did not act.

Adhikari claims that he has had to face the minister's wrath largely because he decided to freeze the account of a business person who had transferred Rs 400 million from the United States without proof of any known source of income. The account is currently being probed for possible money laundering, and the US wants the money returned to it. Adhikari has also charged the government of including a relative of the Finance Minister, former justice of the SC Purushottam Bhandari, in the three-member probe committee. All these accusations make Adhikari's suspension by the government highly contentious.

The controversy surrounding Adhikari's suspension and the SC's stay order do not augur well for the image of the coalition government headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba. This, however, is not the first time a finance minister and the central bank governor have been at odds. In a similar episode in the past, the SC had reinstated Tilak Rawal as governor in 2001 after being suspended by then Finance Minister Mahesh Acharya, which forced him to duly resign on moral grounds. It remains to be seen if Minister Sharma will do the same now or wait for the SC's verdict after hearing both sides on Tuesday. The wrangling between the finance minister and the NRB governor is most unfortunate at a time when a big financial crisis is looming large on the horizon. Foreign currency reserves have been depleting, with them just enough to meet imports for a few months. Although the finance minister has been denying that the country's economy is in bad shape, citing the country does not have a huge foreign debt like Sri Lanka, economic indicators state otherwise. For now, the central bank's autonomy has been reinstated following the SC's stay order, but what guarantee is there that the government will not interfere in its functioning in the future?

Quit before polls

A division bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed a writ petition filed by chairperson of Helambu Rural Minicipality, Nima Gyaljen Sherpa, challenging the election code of conduct that requires incumbent local representatives to resign if they want to contest the upcoming local polls. Gyaljen had argued that the code contradicted the Local Level Election Act, which does not require the sitting representatives to resign before filing their nomination for the May 13 elections.

With the apex court quashing the writ petition, the election code of conduct issued by the Election Commission will be enforced. But it is not clear to whom the local representatives will submit their resignation.

The division bench has also stated that if a federal lawmaker or provincial assembly member wishes to contest the local level election, s/he is also required to submit his or her resignation before filing the nomination papers scheduled for April 24 and 25.

They are also required to clear all arrears before filing their nominations. Many local levels had provided monthly allowances to the elected officials even though there is no law for it. Failure to clear the arrears means they will be barred from contesting the polls.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 21, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.