Friday, 3 December, 2021

Positive Narratives On MCC

Positive Narratives On MCC

Narayan Upadhyay

With a constructive narrative building around it, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Nepal Compact has gained momentum for its ratification. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba exuded confidence that the US-sponsored compact would be ratified soon. His statement gave a positive dimension to the current debate, even though some prefer a few modifications in the compact's provisions before its approval. To corroborate his pledge, the PM claimed that the aid received under the MCC compact would come as grants and the country should accept such grants coming free of cost. Most significantly, he stated Nepali laws would succeed in implementing projects under this pact that Nepal signed with the US in 2017.

When KP Sharma Oli was heading the government, he demonstrated a willingness to get it through the Nepali legislature. When he was at the helm, he used to come down heavily on the Speaker for being "averse to table the MCC compact in the parliament" for discussions. However, he has now shifted his position a bit as he is heard saying that his party, the main opposition, would take a call only after scrutinising the ruling coalition's move. It appears Oli is playing the role of an opposition leader, who is awaiting rivals' moves on the compact before he takes a call on it.

Barring the Maoist Centre and a few others, several others hailing from various sections of society and the political spectrum are upbeat about seeing the significant compact through parliament, which would enable the MCC Headquarters in Washington to start a five-year-long project under this agreement. Despite some confusion, some of our political leaders, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs and business community called for endorsing the US$ 500 million compact, which, if deferred, would deliver a telling blow to the county's aspiration to build and modernise key infrastructure such as electricity transmission lines and upgrade road networks, vital for the country's overall development.

Infrastructure building
According to the MCC and the US, under this compact, the electricity transmission project will aim at completing Nepal's 400KV east-west transmission line and the Nepal portion of the second cross-border transmission line with India, totalling 300 km of transmission line and upgrading road. They say these lines will support Nepal to provide reliable electricity to homes and businesses, upgrade the electricity grid, and sell Nepal's surplus energy. The pact, according to the US side, will mark a new chapter in the US-Nepal partnership and help our government provide crucial services, ease movements around the country, and open new opportunities for private investment, achieve sustainable development, strengthen infrastructure, the economy, and reduce poverty.

Calls to ratify the agreement have grown louder in recent days as the MCC vice president cleared existing confusions and misconceptions. Vice President Fatema Z. Sumar, who paid an official visit to Nepal last month, had told the Nepali side, loud and clear, that the compact was not a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, as feared and suspected by many in Nepal. Terming her exchanges with a cross-section of society - from parliamentarians and party leaders to civil society and the business community successful in clearing misconception and misinterpretations - she was "encouraged by the support the compact received from different sections of Nepali society."

Similarly, the MCC Headquarters, while furnishing replies to queries regarding serious concerns back home, denied that the MCC compact would be above Nepal's sovereign constitution. The clarification from the MCC Headquarters and Vice President Sumar should clear all suspicions that the US-led compact would undermine the country's constitution and sovereignty and that it is a part of the IPS. The apprehension that US security personnel will come and remain in Nepal once our nation ratifies it appears outlandish and unsubstantiated. Why would the world's superpower station its security in Nepal under the guise of a grant project worth only US$ 500 million?

In addition, many hold the ill-founded opinion that the MCC agreement would provide a counter to the China-sponsored Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Nepal. Sovereign Nepal has every right to select or opt for any project on its own. It is up to our country to accept any international grant, loans, donations or projects that are in its best interests.

However, for all recent positive narratives, there are still some works to be done for the ratification. First, the coalition government must work to build consensus among the political parties representing in the parliament before it tables the compact for debate and its endorsement. At present, the government is reluctant to push it through the House because the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist), key components of the coalition, have articulated concerns over some provisions in the agreement. Some show concerns that consensus cannot be reached owing to the different position maintained by the Maoist Centre over the US-sponsored compact. All concerned groups who wish to see the pact endorsed must first allay the coalition partners' trepidation regarding what they call controversial provisions.

Owing to a lack of consensus among the ruling coalition, we have experienced delays in tabling the compact, although in recent times many of these partners have realised positive aspects inherent in the compacts and the benefits it would bring to the country's development goal. Another vital issue that should come into consideration is that the MCC provides its grants to a country that meets the standards for human rights, democratic rights, good governance and anti-corruption measures.

The grant to Nepal is a sign that our country has met all requirements that further prove Nepal has continued adhering, nurturing and promoting universally recognised democratic rights, good governance and other indicators that promote human rights, child rights, anti-corruption measures and so on. Since all existing concerns that the compact would undermine the nation's sovereignty have been addressed by none other than the high ranking MCC and US officials, our politicians and all sceptics should rethink to give up their posture and work together for its ratification.

(Upadhyay is managing editor at TRN.