MCC officials hold talks with opposition leader KP Sharma OliUML’s Rajan Bhattarai says his party conveyed to the visiting delegation that it would make a position after the ruling alliance makes a position on the MCC.
Officials from the Department of Compact Operations at the Millenium Challenge Corporation have started their meetings in Nepal after arriving in Kathmandu earlier in the morning on Thursday.
Fatema Z Sumar and Jonathan Brooks, vice president and deputy vice president at the MCC, on Thursday afternoon met with KP Sharma Oli, chair of the main opposition CPN-UML and former prime minister.
During the meeting with Oli and the UML delegation, Sumar told Oli that the MCC delegation is here to discuss the ratification process and that she is meeting with top leaders of major political parties, according to Rajan Bhattarai, a UML Central Committee member who was present in the meeting who also heads the UML’s Foreign Affairs Department
“[We told the delegation] when we were in the government, we tried to ratify the MCC but some parties and the Speakers [Krishna Bahadur Mahara and Agni Sapkota] were reluctant to move the compact in the Parliament,” Bhattarai told the Post. “Now we are in the opposition. The ruling side has neither approached us nor consulted us.”
The US officials arrived in Kathmandu a day after the MCC headquarters responded to Nepal’s concerns regarding the American programmes, under which Nepal will receive $500 million in grants for electricity transmission and road projects.
Sumar and Brooks are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other leaders as well, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chair of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Sumar is also scheduled to meet with government officials, and business and community leaders
According to the Embassy of the United States in Kathmandu, Sumar will discuss the required next steps to implement the $500 million MCC-Nepal infrastructure programme, address the clarification questions provided by the Ministry of Finance, and hear from the people of Nepal.
“She will specifically affirm: the MCC grant program has no military component, will not impede on Nepal’s sovereignty, and Nepal’s constitution will prevail over the agreement,” the embassy said in a statement. “Prior to negotiating and signing the compact in 2017, the government of Nepal designed the five-year grant programme to provide more reliable electricity and lower power and transportation costs for all Nepalis.”
Nepal and the United States signed the agreement four years ago—in September 2017 when existing Law Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki was the finance minister. At that time also, Deuba was the prime minister, backed by the Maoist Centre. The US programme, however, has become a cause of controversy in Nepal, with Nepali political parties sharply divided, and it has been awaiting its parliamentary ratification for over two years now.
To assuage concerns of the leaders and cadres of, particularly, the Maoist Centre and CPN (Unified Socialist), the Finance Ministry, which is led by Janardan Sharma, a former Maoist commander, on September 3 had sent a letter to the MCC headquarters asking for clarifications on some major points of the agreement.
In its 13-page response dispatched to the Finance Ministry on Wednesday, the MCC has said that the compact is not part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy and that the Constitution of Nepal prevails over the agreement.
The Maoist Centre, one of the biggest critics of the MCC, is the key coalition partner in the Deuba government, which is making a push for the MCC Nepal Compact’s parliamentary ratification.
The UML, which was when in power was all for the MCC’s parliamentary ratification, however, appears opposed to it now, ever since it was forced out of power in the second week of July.
Deuba either needs the UML’s support or the support of all its coalition patterns–the Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party–to get the MCC Nepal Compact through the Parliament.
Bhattarai said his party, the UML, does not have any position at this time.
“The government has not consulted us regarding what it wants. Why is the government silent on this?” Bhattarai told the Post. “We have no idea what Prime Minister Deuba is thinking or what Maoist Centre chair Dahal is thinking. We don’t even know about Madhav Nepal and Upendra Yadav [of the Janata Samajbadi].”
The government last week, however, had sent Law Minister Karki to hold talks with Oli and he had held discussions with Subhas Nembang, a close aide to Oli.
Nembang told the Post last week that Karki discussed improving relations between the government and the opposition and the MCC too figured during the talks.
“I told him that we had taken the MCC to Parliament, but the Speaker did not move it forward,” said Nembang.
Bhattarai, however, said once the ruling parties and Speaker Sapkota make their position clear, the UMLwill make its position clear on the MCC.
“This is what we conveyed to the visiting US officials,” Bhattarai told the Post.