KATHMANDU, Feb 27: While the United States has been pushing Nepal on the procurement of thousands of M16 rifles as agreed earlier between the two governments, officials in Nepal have cited complications in local law.
The legal hurdle is likely to further delay the purchase of over 5,000 units of the M16 and other weaponry worth approximately Rs 1 billion for the Nepal Army.
In a meeting with visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Joseph H Feltman on Monday, Nepal's Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ishwar Pokhrel communicated to him about the legal hurdle in the government-to-government (G2G) arms procurement deal.
The US wants 100 percent payment cleared before the arms are supplied whereas Nepali law does not allow clearance of payment at one go. The payment has to be on an installment basis.
“We can't do it without changing existing law. We discussed about this complication with the visiting US official yesterday [Monday] as well,” said Defense Minister Pokhrel adding, “He [Feltman] told us he would discuss this issue with Washington .”
The meeting between Pokhrel and Feltman took stock of the legal complication and the matter was also discussed during the visit here of US Indo-Pacific Command head Admiral Philip S. Davidson in the second week of January .
Following Monday's meeting, Feltman said he was aware about the legal complication and hinted at resolving it. “I understand that there are differences in our procurement practices. Of course, we have our own laws and regulations that need to be changed. We are hoping there is a way forward,” he told a group of journalists Monday.
Nepal wants to purchase the arms as soon as possible as its army is in need of upgrading for its peacekeepers deployed under the United Nations. But the legal complication has stood in the way.
Meanwhile, the government had consulted its Ministry of Home Affairs about revising the law . But officials dealing with legal matters are concerned that any changes made to the law to facilitate the arms deal might invite complications in other procurements in future.
“The army can't remain idle like a club. Definitely, arms and ammunition are essential for regular training and other tasks,” said Defense Minister Pokhrel.