NCP lawmakers close to the PM suspect this as an attempt by a rival faction within the party to scuttle a huge investment
KATHMANDU, June 24: With the 'unilateral' decision of the Speaker Agni Sapkota to put off the meeting of the House of Representatives (HoR) till July 1, the implementation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) projects is now uncertain.
As the ruling NCP remains sharply divided on whether to endorse the MCC agreement through the parliament, the decision of House Speaker Sapkota to ‘unilaterally’ put off the House till July 1 shows that the agreement is less likely to be endorsed by the House anytime soon, sources within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) said.
Although the June 30 deadline for the endorsement of the grant agreement through the House can be renegotiated in view of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the intra-party differences within the NCP over the $500 million US grant to develop infrastructure projects has put the fate of MCC projects in limbo. Endorsement of the MCC projects through the parliament is one of the pre-conditions in the agreement to pave a way to implement the projects.
While Prime Minister K P Oli is in favor of endorsing the agreement through the parliament, the party's other chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and some senior leaders have stood against endorsing the MCC agreement. The main opposition party, Nepali Congress (NC), and other parties in the parliament have stood in favor of the MCC agreement.
Sources claimed that Speaker Sapkota, who is considered close to Chairman Dahal, scheduled the next House meeting on July 1, apparently to skip the June 30 deadline to endorse the MCC agreement through the parliament.
Although it is his prerogative to decide the date of the next House meeting, there is a parliamentary tradition to discuss the issue at the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting before the new date of the House meeting is announced.
The main opposition party, Nepali Congress (NC), whip Pushpa Bhusal said the decision to put off the House meeting till July 1 was made without consultations with the political parties in the parliament. "Although the date of the next meeting is normally settled in consultation with other political parties, there was no such meeting this time. We were not even aware of this," Bhusal told Republica.
Sources close to Speaker Sapkota said the decision was made keeping in view of the time needed to authenticate the financial bills endorsed by parliament and other important functions of the party. While three days, till Friday, was allocated for authenticating the financial bills endorsed by the House, there is no tradition of scheduling a House meeting on Saturday.
The sources further said that the House meeting was not scheduled for Sunday as the day marks the death anniversary of the founding leader of the erstwhile CPN-UML Madan Bhandari. The House was scheduled for Tuesday as one more day was requested by several lawmakers to come back to Kathmandu from their home districts and conduct COVID-19 tests before attending the House meeting.
The decision of Speaker Sapkota came shortly after chairman Dahal held a meeting to discuss the agenda of the Standing Committee of the party scheduled for Wednesday. In addition to various concurrent issues, the meeting is scheduled to hold a detailed discussions about the MCC.
The unilateral decision of Speaker Sapkota to defer the House meeting till July 1 has created deep suspicion with the establishment faction of the ruling NCP, according to party insiders. "The endorsement of the MCC agreement was delayed on various excuses even when Krishna Bahadur Mahara was the House Speaker. This is nothing but an attempt to scuttle the huge amount of money that the country has received for economic development," said the lawmaker close to PM Oli.
The MCA-Nepal – the accountable entity established by the government to implement the MCC compact programs – earlier had announced that the 'entry for force' date for the implementation of MCC with a grant of US$ 500 million would begin from June 30, 2020. Accordingly, the June 30 deadline was set for the parliamentary endorsement of the MCC agreement.
The government finalized the 'entry for force' date following consultation with all relevant ministries along with MCA-Nepal after nearly two years of the signing of the agreement with the MCC. Nepal and the US signed the agreement in September 2017.
Under the compact, the MCC will provide $500 million in grant while the government will chip in $130 million for the implementation of Electricity Transmission Project (ETP) and Road Maintenance Project (RMP). Altogether 318-kilometer transmission lines of 400kV and three large-capacity substations will be built under the ETP, while the RMP is focused primarily on the maintenance of 300 kilometers of strategic roads.