Kathmandu-From the hall of the Ministry of Health and Population to the General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO), Minister Mohan Bahadur Basnet has ultimately tried to hide face by blaming the staff to cover up his shame after the budget came in contrary to his speech of increasing the tax on tobacco products. He claimed that, at least according to the standards of the World Health Organization, the tax on tobacco products would be 75%. However, instead of increasing the scope of taxes in Monday’s budget speech, after the overall reduction of 5 – 7%, the blame is piled up the head of the employees of the Ministry of Finance.
In a program organized on the occasion of ‘World No Tobacco Day’ on Wednesday, Minister Basnet couldn’t hide that helplessness and exasperation. “Since the beginning, I have been saying that the tax on tobacco should be increased. However, after the very low tax increase in the budget speech, when I spoke to the Minister of Finance, he informed me that he came accordingly because his staff friends told him to do this now,” Minister Basnet said, “The tax did not increase because the traders and businessmen were also involved. I had asked the Cabinet to correct this issue.”
Minister Basnet said in his first meeting with the reporters after assuming office that he would increase the scope of tax on tobacco products and spend the money from it on the treatment of the people. In every speech, he had been calling for an increase in the tax on tobacco products. After Minister Basnet expressed his commitment to increase the scope of tax in the General Assembly of the World Health Organization, the director general of the organization tweeted and thanked Minister Basnet. After Minister Basnet repeatedly raised the issue of tax increase on tobacco products in his speeches, the tobacco industry was lobbying with the Prime Minister, Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the Finance Minister, Dr. Prakasharan Mahat not to increase the tax scope.
“After the health minister’s tax increase speech, we had seen tobacco industry people in Baluwatar many times,” says an activist involved in the campaign against tobacco products. “If you really want to increase taxes, then you don’t need to make speeches in places. You make speeches after doing the work.”
Anand Bahadur Chand, President of Action Nepal, an organization working against tobacco products, says that looking at the scope of tax imposed on tobacco products by the government, it is working in favor of the tobacco industry rather than public health. “After increasing the scope of tax below inflation, it will be reduced by 5-7% from the current tax,” he says, “This is an incentive for the people to consume tobacco instead of food.” Jayakumar Gurung says that the government has forgotten the commitment made in the international fora. “It was a good opportunity to implement international commitments, but it was missed,” he said.