There are only two weeks left for the government to introduce its annual budget for the fiscal year 2069/70. However, dispute over whether the present government that has already announced elections to the Constituent Assembly can present a full-fledged budget through an ordinance has deepened. The opposition parties, especially the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, have been claiming that the caretaker government cannot introduce a full-fledged budget without forging consensus. They argue that the government is trying to influence the elections by bringing a populist budget, which has been refuted by Maoist Finance Minister Barsa Man pun at different forums. Indeed, the opposition parties want the government to step down by preventing it from presenting the budget. Again the ruling coalition has been weakened following division in the ruling Maoist and Madhesi parties after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly.
At a time when the ruling and opposition parties are divided over the new budget, the Supreme Court the other day rejected a petitionerís call to issue an interim order against the governmentís preparation to introduce a full-fledged budget. The SC order might be a big respite for the government, but a full-fledged budget introduced without forging consensus could further complicate the volatile political situation. There have already been contradictory interpretations of the verdict with some claiming that the SC has opened the path for the government to bring a full-fledged budget and others saying that the SC verdict allows it to present only a down-sized budget as per Article 96 (A, 2). With the SC order, the parties will again be at loggerheads regarding the size of the budget the present government could introduce. Should the government attempt to introduce a full-fledged budget through an ordinance, not only could the president, who has been suggesting that the government bring the budget only after forging consensus, be dragged into controversy but also the environment for consensus could be spoiled.
In fact, this is not the first time that the political parties have been at loggerheads over the new budget. The parties themselves had set a bad precedence, especially after the elections to the Constituent Assembly in 2008. Many have not forgotten the unparliamentary behaviour shown by the lawmakers of the UCPN-Maoist against the then Finance Minister Surendra Pandey in the legislature parliament. A year after that shameful incident, Finance Minister Barshaman Pun representing the UCPN-Maoist is finding it difficult to introduce the budget although he is away from physical harmís way as there is no parliament to table the budget this time. Earlier too, the finance ministers were compelled to table quarterly budgets owing to lack of consensus among the parties.
Now that there is no elected body like the CA or the parliament to resolve issues related to the budget and others through the legal procedure, the parties need to come together to find a way out of the problems. There must be a common understanding even to hold the new elections to the CA or to sort out the contentious issues of the constitution and promulgate it. As such, the government as well as the opposition parties would do well to reach consensus on the budget first and bring it at the earliest possible because without a new budget, the country cannot run its daily administration.