Oli and Deuba both want MCC ratified but Sapkota stands in their wayAgni Sapkota, the newly elected Speaker of the House, has said that there is no hurry to ratify the compact, despite Oli’s assurances that it will be passed immediately.
While Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and leader of the opposition Sher Bahadur Deuba appear to be on the same page regarding endorsement of the United States’ Millenium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, newly elected Speaker Agni Sapkota could be a fly in the ointment.
Sapkota was elected on the basis of a broader understanding between the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the opposition Nepali Congress but if Sapkota’s words are anything to go by, the MCC Nepal Compact could face the same lethargy it did during Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s tenure as Speaker.
Oli had accused Mahara of holding up the MCC Nepal Compact and Sapkota’s election was supposed to ease its ratification by Parliament, despite vocal opposition from within the ruling party.
In his first address to the winter session of Parliament on Tuesday, Oli said that the MCC Nepal Compact, which has been with the House for months now, needed to be endorsed without delay.
“We don’t have any time to waste. The MCC has to be endorsed by Parliament,” he said at the House of Representatives.
Oli went on to say that he is expecting Sapkota’s “successful leadership” in accomplishing tasks that are pending at the Lower House.
Nepali Congress President Deuba, who addressed the House after Oli, also said that the MCC pact needed to be endorsed immediately by Parliament. Stating that it was his government that had signed the MCC agreement, Deuba said it was wrong to drag the compact into controversy.
“There is no military component to the MCC, which the Americans have made clear,” Deuba said. “We are free to say no to any provisions that are not in our interest.”
But Sapkota, speaking to the media after assuming office on Monday, had said that there was no hurry to endorse the MCC.
“The discussion over the MCC compact is ongoing. I believe these discussions will result in some conclusions,” he said. “We will also study it. There’s no hurry.”
Political analysts say that the debate over the MCC is definitely not over as Oli and Sapkota’s conflicting remarks attest.
Political analyst Hari Roka said that the issue has become more complex than during Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s tenure as a public debate is now taking place over the MCC, which was not the case earlier.
“I am sure the differences among the ruling party leaders will be seen in Parliament as well,” Roka told the Post.
Had the governments of the past made public all of the compact’s provisions from the very beginning, the MCC would not have been controversial, he said.
“The tendency of successive governments to keep the MCC secret has only increased suspicions,” said Roka.
Within the ruling party, leaders say that they are attempting to work out an amicable solution. And although the debate might continue, the MCC will ultimately be endorsed, as Oli himself has given that assurance.
“The prime minister making an assurance in Parliament has some meaning. I believe the pact will ultimately be endorsed,” Mani Thapa, a standing committee member of the party, told the Post.
Leaders from the Maoist faction of the ruling party have been opposing the compact on the grounds that it is tied to the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, which includes military components that are aimed at China, a friendly neighbour. But the UML faction, united behind Oli, and the Nepali Congress has been insistent that the compact be endorsed immediately and any rejection would greatly impact Nepal’s relations with the US.
The US Embassy in Nepal and a number of US government officials have reiterated that there is no military component attached to the compact. Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali, in his address to party lawmakers from the National Assembly last week, also said that the MCC is an economic agreement with no military component.
The MCC Nepal Compact was signed in September 2017 during the Sher Bahadur Deuba administration. Under the MCC, the US offers a grant of $500 million, the largest grant Nepal has ever received, which will be supplemented by $130 million from the Nepal government. The funds will go towards setting up a 400kV transmission line on the Lapsiphedi-Galchhi-Damauli-Sunawal power corridor, and towards the maintenance of around 300 kilometres of roads on the East-West Highway.