The country is currently polarized over the US$ 500 million grant the American government is providing through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC Compact signed between Nepal and America four years ago have yet to come into implementation in lack of ratification by the House.
The American government has already said that the amount will be given to another country if the MCC Compact is not ratified by the House by February end. The act of picking controversy over a grant agreement with a friendly nation four years after signing the agreement shows how pathetic and irresponsible our diplomacy is. Such an important issue that needs to be discussed in the House has not even been taken to the House.
The dispute, therefore, has reached the streets and even the dining table of the people. The politicians stayed mere spectators instead of becoming serious about such an important issues related to the country's future. This further compounded matters. The MCC Compact should be tabled in the House without any delay and lawmakers should take a decision using their wisdom.
The then prime minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli had registered the MCC for discussion in the House when he led the CPN government. But the then speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara did not allow discussion in the House on instruction of Pushpa Kamal Dahal who was chairman of ruling CPN along with Oli.
Agni Sapkota, who shares Maoist background with Mahara, also did not hold discussion amidst power struggle inside CPN after he became speaker. He did not just deny the government the right to take any bill or proposal of its choice to the House but also obstructed exercise of the sovereign right of the lawmakers elected by the people to hold discussion on those issues. This is unpardonable on the part of Sapkota in capacity of speaker. Speaker Sapkota should now take the MCC Compact for discussion without any excuse and delay. Whether to end the House obstruction for discussion or not is up to CPN-UML. He cannot shirk his responsibility pointing at UML.
Many political leaders have been irresponsible on the issue of MCC. CPN (Maoist Center) Chair Dahal has been the most irresponsible among the top leaders. He generally has a dual position on any issue. He has this habit of saying one thing one day and exactly the opposite the next day on any issue irrespective of gravity of the issue. He unfortunately swung like a pendulum even on the issue of MCC and bilateral relation with America.
He made a sensitive issue like MCC a tool for his power struggle inside the party in the beginning. He had said the MCC Compact will be ratified by the House in Kantipur Conclave a few years back. But he first used Mahara and then Sapkota, and stopped MCC's entry in the House as his relation with Oli soured.
Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba had asked Dahal about the MCC Compact before forging the alliance to unseat Oli from pemiership. Deuba actually wanted to form the coalition government only after getting the MCC Compact ratified. Dahal had promised his party's support to pass the MCC Compact after forming the coalition government. But Dahal started to make conflicting remarks about MCC once the new government was formed. He claimed that he is not in favor of passing it inside his party even as he swore his support for the agreement with American officials. He told Deuba that he needs more time to convince comrades inside his party.
Dahal penned a joint letter to the MCC on September 29, 2021 along with PM Deuba after American officials said they will take back the amount if it is not endorsed by the House, and sought four-five months to create a favorable environment for MCC inside his party and in the country. He also promised to get the MCC Compact ratified in his official meetings with American officials in the intervening period. He did not raise the issue of amending the agreement in the joint letter sent to the MCC or during the multiple meetings with American officials. But he continued to tell leaders inside his party that the MCC Compact cannot be passed without amendment. So much so that he got the party's stance endorsed by the recent general convention.
How can a top leader of a major party and a former PM act so irresponsibily? The country has suffered a huge loss due to his dual character. But he himself and his party has suffered an even greater loss due to that. Dahal continued to sell the dream of rebellion and state capture to the rank and file even after he gave up the armed rebellion and joined peaceful politics. He mentally sailed the two boats of peace and rebellion.
He and his party would have been in a far better position in Nepali politics now had he focused on transforming his party for peaceful politics and seeking resolution to the political, social and economic issues facing the country through the House right from the beginning. He has not even imagined the harm the dual nature he is showing now on the issue of MCC has incurred for him. He will face the consequences if he does not mend his ways.
The main opposition UML has also resorted to politicking on the issue of MCC in recent times. UML has put the party's interests above that of the country's even though it may not be as shameless as Dahal's. As the issue of MCC gets trickier, there is risk of conflict of powerful countries intensifying inside Nepal and the country getting in a geopolitical tangle. That is not an issue of concern for just one party.
If all the parties come together, we cannot just evade the potential geopolitical mess but also have the opportunity of moving forward with a foreign policy based on a balanced relations with all the powerful countries. The country currently needs cognizance and cooperation from all the parties. But UML is busy counting its political gains and losses.
Setopati has always been clear on the issue of ratifying the MCC Compact. America definitely may have its strategic interest in the MCC just as China may have in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI|) and India in any other development project. But Nepal has not done any strategic deal in the MCC Compact it has signed. We will be bound only by the MCC Compact in the coming days. The issues mentioned in the MCC Compact are purely related only to development projects—construction of transmission lines essential for Nepal, and repair and maintenance of the roads.
There are many reasons for the issues in the agreement being dragged into controversy. Many do not know anything about this agreement. They have not even read the agreement but are opposing it on the basis of hearsay. Some are opposing in lack of understanding about how international treaties and agreements are drafted and their meaning. Some are not familiar about the language used in deals about development projects and are opposing it. Still others are opposing by misinterpreting the meaning of English language used in the agreement. And some are opposing it due to their prejudice.
The MCC Office has already sent written response to all the questions raised about the MCC. The MCC Compact itself has a provision allowing both Nepal and America to unilaterally revoke the deal giving a 30-day notice if they have any grievances regarding implementation of the Compact. We will always reserve the rights to walk away from the agreement giving a 30-day notice if Nepal does not agree with anything or America puts pressure to that regard after the MCC Compact comes into implementation. We must, therefore, get the MCC Compact ratified through the House and take it into implementation without any apprehension.
Setopati is also clear about the issue of geopoliitcs. Nepal will have to maintain cordial and close relation with all the neighboring and powerful countries, and use that to our benefits.
We should not oppose any country for the sake of another, and not allow any to interfere in the relation with another. India wanted Nepal to not sign the BRI and had even quietly lobbied for that. We had said we should sign the BRI with China even then. We are also clear that we should build better relation with the northern neighbor. We should not allow India or America to interfere in our relation with China just like we should not allow China to covertly or overtly interfere in our relation with India or America.
Only that will provide an opportunity for us to maintain close relation with all the powerful countries and reap benefits from that. Nepal will become a playground for powerful countries if Nepal supports or opposes any country for the sake of another. That will spell trouble for us in the long run.
The lawmakers, therefore, should think seriously about the issue and take a decision based on their wisdom. The people have elected lawmakers prescisely to discuss and decide about such important and tricky issues. They should fulfill that responsibility handed over by the electorate.