--By Madan Lamsal
It had to come and so it did, gladdening some and saddening others. Those who got something from it were happy. Those who didn’t were not. The budget for many remained a pie in the sky.
Does it mean the new budget doesn’t favour the country and its people in the least? In other words, is this budget not worth the paper it’s written on?
No. In the first place, the speech book was first-class, shiny and clean, something really big and bulky, perfectly matching the honourably financed minister’s frame. It took even a scholar like him three hours just to read it out. Instead of using water, he kept licking his fingers as he turned the pages over, becoming the first person to get the budget’s taste!
But don’t take it otherwise. It’s not that his mouth watered just at the sight of the budget. He had a message to convey - he wanted all and sundry to understand how water has become scarce in a country said to be so much rich in water.
However, it’s not that people received nothing at all even amidst the scarcity. In fact, munificent Mahat managed to give many more than enough. MPs, grandmas and grandpas are happy as their allowances have been hiked. Businesses are all smiles too as the VAT threshold has been raised but the tax rates not. To make their smiles even wider, he has dangled a carrot in front of them, allowing them to invest abroad.
But Mahat perhaps could not manage the time to read or listen to the demands of the media and the media persons, except the TV channel owners who have been gifted a 50 per cent royalty waiver. There is nothing wrong with this; we all try to return a favour. The minister has done just that; he has returned the favour of seeing his face on the little screen time and again.
Mahat has even promised to pass investment-friendly laws which have been pending in parliament for years. Some people just know how to make promises that need not be fulfilled. Especially politicians, who are very good at it. Mahat too knows that the parliamentary session which formulates laws is not sitting. But can he be blamed for having this information?
By allocating a budget for local elections, our Dr Saab has also silenced those who were crying out for one. Not only this, he has even come up with the novel idea of merging VDCs, let alone cooperatives, and announced incentives for this. Perhaps this is really readying the country for federalism. Because the number of electoral constituencies will have to be slashed to 175 from the current 250 in Federal Nepal. Wow! What a successful use of economics in politics?!
Like every year, the FinMin has experimented with taxes this year too. What else can explain the imposition of different tax rates on similar goods? For example, a little tax on short and non-filter cigarettes. And a bigger tax on longer cigarettes with filters. It seems the government is encouraging smokers to smoke short and non-filter cigarettes. The government does care about the strain on your wallet!
Alcohol too has been subject to a radical experiment. Whether it’s a Rs 10,000 whiskey bottle or a Rs 200 bottle wine, the tax is the same- Rs 200! A socialist flavour to both the budget and the liquor!! To get rich quickly, liquor manufacturers can now start producing 3 or 5 litre bottles instead of a half or a litre bottle. But maybe not 10 or 20 litre bottles. The sheer size of these could turn casual sippers into drunken guzzlers.
Anyway, the budget is attractive and balanced. It doesn’t say if the salary of government employees will be raised. But it also doesn’t say it won’t be! Can there be anything as balanced as this?
Those criticizing such a beautifully balanced budget don’t realize how tough the act of striking a balance is. Perhaps the only solace for budget makers is that they can always shift the blame on those implementing the budget if it fails to bear fruit. Right?