KATHMANDU, Feb 23: Implementation of the US$ 500 million grant announced by the USA for Nepal’s development under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement hangs in the balance after the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders remain divided over whether to endorse the agreement from the parliament as promised earlier.
A secretariat meeting of the ruling party on Saturday ended inclusively after most of the nine members of the top body stood in favor of endorsing the agreement only after amending ‘some objectionable provisions’ of the MCC grant.
Top leaders of the ruling party had assembled at the prime minister’s official residence in Baluwatar on Saturday, a day after an internal task force of the party assigned to study the aid agreement and recommend its suggestions to the government sought revision of the MCC agreement.
The task force led by former prime minister Jhalanath Khanal has recommended the government not to endorse the $500 million US aid from the parliament in its current form.
During Saturday’s meeting, Khanal had briefed the secretariat members about the findings of the task force and reiterated his stance. Khanal argued that endorsing the agreement without revision would adversely affect the country’s sovereignty and freedom in the long run.
After Khanal’s briefing, the party’s executive chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Vice-chairman Bamdev Gautam also stressed on the need of amending the agreement before endorsing it from the parliament.
“MCC [agreement] is not a bible. And it doesn’t mean it is unchangeable,” said the party’s executive chairman Dahal while addressing a program in Nawalpur, adding, “When some concerns are raised they should be addressed.”
Stating that the agreement was already revised twice, Dahal urged the US to revise the aid agreement to address the issues raised by the Nepali side.
Both Prime Minister KP Shrama Oli and Foreign Affairs Minister Pradeep Gyawali want to endorse the agreement without any further delay. But they are in a fix after majority of party leaders strongly opposed the idea.
The recommendation put forth by the task force has complicated the MCC row further, according to party leaders.
A senior leader said that the party has now reached to the conclusion of endorsing the agreement only after amending the agreement although the decision to this effect was not taken during Saturday’s meeting.
US officials, however, have been refusing to revise the agreement. They have warned of withdrawing the aid if Nepal’s parliament delays to endorse the agreement in the current form.
The agreement was supposed to get endorsed by the previous House session. But the plan to endorse the aid agreement was delayed by months after the then Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara stepped down from the post following a rape attempt charge by a staffer at the parliament secretariat.
This time around, the new speaker hasn’t announced voting for the agreement as the ruling party leaders remain sharply divided over the issue.
Those opposing the agreement say the aid should be rejected since it is being provided to Nepal as part of a larger military alliance or Indo-Pacific Strategy to contain China and weaken Nepal’s sovereignty.
Pro-MCC supporters have been lobbying within the government saying that the agreement was signed aimed at building cross-country electricity transmission lines and for connectivity between Nepal and India by upgrading a few road projects. They argue that the agreement has no links with the IPS.
Gautam to be named as National Assembly members
NCP leaders have proposed to name the party’s vice-chairman Bam Dev Gautam as a member of the National Assembly. Gautam was defeated by Nepali Congress leader Sanjay Gautam in the parliamentary election of 2017.
The party had asked him to contest the recently held upper house elections. But Gautam had demanded the party to amend the constitution to clear the way for him to lead the government. The existing constitutional provisions bar national assembly members to lead the government.
Even though the upper house election has already concluded, one position of National Assembly member to be nominated by the President is still vacant.
Executive chairman Dahal has proposed the party to nominate Gautam as upper house member. Gautam hasn’t responded to the proposal nor has the party endorsed the proposal.
Party leaders said a formal decision will be taken after Gautam responds to the proposal.