It has been almost a decade since Nepal was qualified for the grant offered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), years since Nepali side negotiated and proposed the projects, four years since the formal agreement was signed by the government representatives of the two countries, two years since the agreement was registered in sovereign parliament for discussion and subsequent ratification. But it still stands in limbo, potentially frustrating the party which invests the money for the infrastructure that Nepal once said it badly needed and, it still says it needs, raising a question on Nepal’s international credibility and reputation, and its commitment to execute international agreements.
This sums up the current convoluted and dishonest rigmarole on the transmission line and road maintenance projects to be funded by the MCC, a US foreign assistance agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty, which provides $500 million in grant assistance for the said projects.
The perennial dithering on the MCC grant by the leadership across the political spectrum has been baffling at best. The foreign grant by Nepal’s one of the largest development partners has become a victim of intense political wrangling over the years. A political party vows to get it endorsed by parliament when it is in the government, but when the same party is in opposition, it shows total disinterest, dishonesty, and duplicity, or all three. A case in point is the position taken by the CPN-UML. When UML was in power and KP Sharma Oli was the Prime Minister who repeatedly stood for MCC grant’s parliamentary ratification, he blamed Speaker Agni Sapkota for stalling it. Now that Oli is the leader of the main opposition, he has taken a surprising U-turn.
The MCC’s Nepal Compact was signed by the coalition government of Nepali Congress and Maoist Center. As such, these two political forces, which are once again the largest coalition partners of the government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, are morally obliged to push for ratification. But neither party seems so keen on it. While Maoist Center still seems opposed to the pact, Nepali Congress seems beholden to the wishes of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who, Deuba apparently fears, might pull out support if Deuba pushes the Compact forward. Let there be no confusion, Dahal alone cannot stall MCC, if Deuba, with or without UML’s support, becomes bold enough to present it for discussion in parliament.
Extremists have us believe that accepting MCC could pose a threat to our national sovereignty without any substantive facts or reasons. Such views, mainly anchored by misinformation and disinformation rife in social media, have blinded many political leaders to such an extent that they have failed to see that the projects, to be built through American assistance, are infrastructural in nature.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal alone cannot stall the MCC grant, if Deuba, with UML’s support or without it, becomes bold enough to present it for discussion and ratification in parliament.
Our own history serves as a guide to how taking assistance from various countries helps in Nepal’s development process rather than posing a ‘threat’ to our sovereignty. We built Araniko Highway and Prithvi Highway with the Chinese assistance, Panauti Hydro-electric power station and Pathalaiya-Dhalkebar Highway through Russian assistance, Tribhuvan Highway and parts of East-West Highway through Indian assistance and Nepal took development assistance from the US in various sectors such as transport, communication, public health, family planning, malaria eradication, agriculture, forestry and energy, among others. Real threat to our sovereignty emerges when our own political actors are found to ask for money to buy lawmakers or resort to secret deals with dubious sources for their personal benefits.
The truth is Nepal needs assistance from India, China, the US and beyond. The assistance Nepal received to tackle the Covid-19 crisis is a fresh case in point. Nepal received support from the US, the UK, Japan, the EU, China and India, among others. The vaccine support they have provided has been instrumental in saving Nepalis from Covid-19.
Most of the issues and concerns raised by some experts and politicians about the MCC grant have already been addressed by the MCC office. Nepal had asked the MCC office for clarifications on some of the controversial issues propagated by the disinformation campaign. The MCC offered clarifications on them, dispelling all such disinformation. Now either the government has to say those clarifications are not satisfactory enough or it needs to go ahead with the MCC. Any other excuse would reflect poorly on our integrity, maturity and diplomacy.
Experts have clearly spelled out the possible fallouts the rejection of MCC will have for Nepal, both in terms of development and our relations with the US and China. They have pointed out that, in that case, Nepal will be seen as an unreliable partner; our relations with the US might suffer a setback; and most of all, Nepal might lose the prospects of reaping development benefits from the Belt and Road Initiative. On top of all, Nepal will lose its credibility to request for other grants (from friendly countries) that are required for Nepal’s development process.
Our own history serves as a guide to how taking assistance from various countries helps in Nepal’s development process rather than posing a ‘threat’ to our sovereignty.
Misinformation and disinformation are on the full swing regarding MCC grants. Saddest thing is, instead of decoding the contract correctly and convincing the people, our politicians appear to be influenced by false narratives. As a result, the project related to road maintenance and energy with the MCC grant has been victimized. A worrying concern here is other projects might be pushed to the same fate in the future.
There is so much deliberate misinformation that establishes the false conception regarding the grant. Some analysts, especially communist party leaders, cadres, and conspiracy theorists, have opposed the grant citing that it will be used against our northern neighbor. Some political leaders, who do not have enough technical knowledge of Electricity Transmission Project (ETP) under the MCC grant, have even concluded that wire to be installed under the Electricity Transmission Project (ETP) will be used to spy against the northern neighbor. This is similar to the famous hearsay that one politician had once claimed to export surplus electricity via satellite. What is worrisome is that experts who could clarify this type of disinformation are silent, for reasons unknown. Politicians who are thought to be rational have also chosen silence.
Another cause for worry is Nepal’s credentials with the international community and friendly countries. It was Nepal who initiated the process of getting the grant from MCC. After years of negotiation, both parties reached an agreement. Nepal had deployed top bureaucrats, diplomats and technical personnel during the negotiation phase of the MCC grant. The failure of the MCC grant will put bureaucrats and diplomats in such a psychological state that none of them will initiate the negotiation for a similar type of project in the future.
Not only that, rejection of MCC might put us in such a situation that China, too, might see us as an unreliable partner in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation. The parochialism we are exhibiting today on MCC grant will set a precedent for vested interest groups to create needless controversies out of our development partnership with India, China, the US, the EU and other bilateral and multilateral donors. This is the path Nepal needs to avoid. Now.
Let the parliamentarians discuss the MCC on the basis of facts and logic. Let us not send the message that our parliament and its members too are influenced by false narratives propagated by social media , especially YouTubers.
In a real sense, the MCC has become Nepal’s reliability test in diplomatic dealings and commitment to development. Instead of allowing people to continually fall for the clickbait of YouTube channels and misguided by the dogmatic narrative of a few extremist politicians, the government has to present the matter in parliament. It is an opportunity for the Speaker of Parliament, who is often accused of hindering it, to prove those allegations wrong if he facilitates the process. The tragedy of the matter is that the grant, whose approval or disapproval hinges on the conscience and wisdom of the parliamentarians, has not even been tabled for discussion in the parliament.
Nepali politicians and intelligentsia need to put the interest of Nepal and Nepali people first. On this front, Nepal, a country which lags behind in infrastructure development, needs to be able to gain from both the MCC and BRI and any other mega-development projects that benefit Nepali people.
Let the parliamentarians discuss the project under MCC grant on the basis of facts and logic. Let us not send the message that our parliament and its members too are being guided and influenced by false narratives propagated by social media and YouTubers. Let there be informed debate about it in the parliament. Open, transparent and logical debate in the parliament will help prevail the sense regarding the project. Nepal cannot afford the failure of any development project like the one under MCC grant. After all, parliament is a place where national priority issues should be discussed, debated, and decided.