MCC likely to be main agenda of the winter session of the House starting next weekPrime Minister Deuba has over the past few months assured several US officials that the compact would be passed through Parliament.
After proroguing Parliament to introduce an ordinance to amend Political Parties Act on October 29, the Sher Bahadur Deuba government on December 3 recommended starting the winter session from December 14. The recommendation came a day after the government issued half a dozen ordinances.
The House session has been called about two weeks earlier than the usual schedule, which has left many wondering if it has to do with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, a $500 million American grant, which is awaiting parliamentary ratification.
The MCC headquarters in Washington is also holding a board meeting to discuss the Nepal Compact on December 14.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress has always been in favour of the MCC’s parliamentary ratification, but his coalition partners—Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist)—have sought amendments to some clauses.
The CPN-UML, which was for MCC endorsement, has, however, changed its stance since it was ousted from power.
With the MCC becoming a hotly debated and divisive issue in Nepal, the US frustration has been growing, which has lately sent a host of officials, including MCC vice president, to Kathmandu to hold talks with Nepali political leadership and take stock of the status of their grant.
Some Nepali Congress leaders say discussions on the MCC are likely to take place during the winter session of the House.
“Our party has always maintained that the MCC should be endorsed. So we want to move it for discussions,” said Min Bishwakarma, a Congress lawmaker who is close to Deuba.
The MCC has been in Parliament for over two years now. It was registered in the Parliament Secretariat on July 2, 2019 by Yubaraj Khatiwada, the then finance minister in the KP Sharma Oli Cabinet.
It’s not clear how the discussions could take place though, as the UML has vowed to obstruct the House proceedings with its old agenda. The UML had obstructed House meetings during the earlier session also. The party has accused Speaker Agni Sapkota of not taking action on its decision to expel 14 of its lawmakers.
The same lawmakers had later on August 25 formed a new party—the CPN (Unified Socialist) led by Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Officials at the Parliament Secretariat said that the agenda for the first day of the meeting is yet to be set.
“Yes, the winter session has been called around two weeks early this year. Maybe that’s why there is an increased interest among people about the MCC and discussions of the issue,” said Gopalnath Yogi, secretary of the House of Representatives. “We have no information on the agenda yet.”
Lately, US officials have made a flurry of visits to Nepal to discuss MCC with Nepali politicians in the lead up to the MCC board meeting.
The Nepal Compact is one of the agenda items of the December 14 meeting of the Board of Directors, according to the MCC website.
Prime Minister Deuba over the last few months has assured various MCC officials—MCC vice president Fatema Sumar in Kathmandu in September and Alexia Latortue, deputy chief executive officer of the MCC in Glasgow and Donald Lu, assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, in Kathmandu in November—that the compact will be ratified through parliament.
Days before Sumar’s visit to Kathmandu, Nepal’s Finance Ministry had written to the MCC headquarters on September 3, spelling out as many as 11 concerns and questions regarding the American grant.
In its 13-page response, the MCC had attempted to provide clarifications to 11 major questions and supplementary concerns raised by the Finance Ministry, including whether the MCC agreement was above Nepal’s constitution and whether it was part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Regarding the concern, if the MCC agreement is above the Nepal constitution, the MCC has said, “no.”
“The Constitution of Nepal prevails over the MCC Compact,” the MCC said in its response.
During her visit to Nepal on September 9-12, Sumar and her deputy Jonathan Brooks had held a whirlwind of meetings with all top politicians, including Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal and Janata Samajbadi Party leaders Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav.
During all the meetings, they made but one push: ratify the MCC Nepal Compact from Parliament.
During his visit to Kathmandu, Donald Lu, assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, who also met with the top leaders, gave a clear message that Nepal should either take the US grant or leave it.
Congress leaders say failure to approve the MCC grant, which was signed in 2017, could not only mean a massive loss to Nepal but would also hamper the country’s image.
“This is a prestige issue for Nepal,” said Bishwakarma. “That’s why the prime minister is keen on moving the MCC for discussions.
When the MCC was signed in September 2017, Deuba was prime minister leading a coalition government backed by Dahal’s Maoist party.
Currently Deuba's coalition government has the support of the Maoist party, along with the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
For the MCC’s ratification in the House, it needs to be endorsed by 136 votes. Unless the Maoists and the CPN (Unified Socialist) vote in favour, it cannot get through Parliament.
Dev Gurung, chief whip of the Maoist Centre, said no discussion has taken place about moving the MCC for discussions in Parliament.
“At least I have not heard about it yet,” Gurung told the Post. “I think it all depends on how the UML views the issue.
If the government makes a push and the UML decides to vote to endorse the MCC compact, the current coalition runs the risk of breaking down.
But a lot will depend on Speaker Sapkota also.
Whether to move any agenda for discussion is the Speaker's prerogative. Questions remain if Sapkota, a long-time Maoist leader and Dahal’s ally, would do so unless there is a nod from the Maoist Centre.
In the past, Oli on more than one occasion had accused the then Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara of delaying the MCC compact in Parliament.
Congress leaders say the MCC compact has been in limbo for too long and that Deuba now will pull out all the stops to get it endorsed. After the party’s general convention, things are likely to move at a rapid pace, according to them.
The Nepali Congress is holding its 14th general convention on December 10-12. The result for the post of party president is likely by December 13.
Whether the Deuba government will put the MCC to vote during the winter session is not clear yet. But many say by calling the House and initiating discussion on the American grant just when the MCC board meeting is scheduled to discuss Nepal Compact as its agenda can send a message across to Washington to wait for some more time.
“Though I have not got a chance to talk to party leaders due to the upcoming general convention, I can say that there is no significance of convening the House on December 14 if the MCC was not in leaders’ mind,” said Radheshyam Adhikari, a member of the National Assembly representing the Nepali Congress. “It is not a coincidence that the date to begin the new session of the House matches the MCC board meeting. It was a conscious move to give a message to the US to wait for some time, at least until this new session of the federal Parliament.”