KATHMANDU, April 1: The meetings both Houses of the federal parliament are being adjourned through notices time and again since the last two weeks citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the winter session of House used to prorogue by the end of March in the previous years, the government didn't end the session this year in view of the fast-approaching deadline for endorsing a $500 million US grant under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
After the delay in proroguing the parliament, lawmakers demanded suspension of the House meeting amid COVID-19 pandemic. The lower house started maintaining a gap of a week between meetings since February as demanded by the lawmakers.
Meeting of the House of Representatives has not been held after March 12 and the upper house meeting remains adjourned through a notice after March 19.
"The government didn't prorogue the House session citing the approaching deadline for the endorsement of MCC compact even though some of us had suggested ending the session so that lawmakers could leave Kathmandu for their constituencies," said a ruling party lawmaker.
As the country is under a COVID-19 lockdown since March 24, the meeting of the both House have been adjourned until April 5. It is almost certain that the April 5 meeting will also be postponed as the lockdown has been extended to April 7.
The government usually starts budget session of the parliament from the end of April for pre-budget discussions. But there is precedent of announcing the prorogation of parliament session within the House meeting. "We have a tradition of announcing the prorogation of parliament session within the House meeting. But it is not certain when and how the House session prorogues this time," said Subas Nembang deputy leader of NCP parliamentary party.
According to the Millennium Challenge Account Nepal (MCA-Nepal) – the entity established by the government to implement the MCC compact programs – the 'entry into force' (Eif) date for the implementation of the grant will begin June 30.
Parliamentary endorsement of the compact agreement is one of the six preconditions set by the MCC for providing the highest-ever amount of US grant to Nepal. After completing four other preconditions, the government of Nepal is struggling to endorse it from the parliament and finalize land acquisition for the projects to be funded by the grant.
The government has yet to table the agreement for deliberations in parliament even ten months after registering it in the parliament secretariat. Divisions within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) over whether to amend the agreement before its endorsement from the House has delayed deliberation on the related bill in parliament.
But the US has threatened to withdraw the grant if Nepal failed to implement the entry of force of the grant within the given deadline, according to sources. The decision about deadline extension should be taken from MCC board headed by US State Department secretary Mike Pompeo.