Dismissive statements on interpretive declaration casting shadow on credibility of Congress leaders

Observers argue that though the interpretive declaration on MCC Compact does not have legal validity, it is disingenuous of the political leaders to dismiss the document which helped pave the way for MCC implementation.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: One after other top Nepali Congress leaders has been dismissing the ‘interpretive declaration’ on MCC’s Nepal Compact, raising the question of their own credibility. 

The MCC Compact was ratified by Nepal’s parliament on February 27 along with its ‘interpretive declaration’. Amid protests and claims and counterclaims about the MCC Compact, the parties in the ruling coalition—Nepali Congress, Maoist Center and CPN (Unified Socialist)—reached an agreement on February 26 to attach an ‘interpretive declaration’ with the Compact and endorse both the documents from parliament. 

The declaration reiterates Nepal’s position that by being a party to the Compact, Nepal shall not be a part of any United States’ strategic, military or security alliance including the Indo-Pacific Strategy, Constitution of Nepal shall prevail over the Compact and other associated agreements and it shall not obligate Nepal to comply with the current or future United States’ laws or policies for any purpose other than the use of the MCC Funding, among others.  Incidentally, these were some of the concerns raised by the opponents of MCC in Nepal. 

Speaking in parliament during the deliberations on MCC Compact and interpretive declaration on February 27, Gagan Thapa, the General Secretary of Nepali Congress, had stressed the importance of the interpretive declaration. If MCC does not accept the interpretive declaration, the Compact won’t move forward, he had said. 

However, at least two Congress leaders have given statements to the contrary in recent times.

Minendra Rijal, the lawmaker from Nepali Congress who also served as the Defense Minister in Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government, said a fortnight ago that the declaration amounts to nothing and it only provides an excuse to the communist leaders to hold on to power. “The interpretive declaration does not amend the Compact. And the US does not need to decide whether to accept it or not,” he was reported as saying. “This is only meant for giving face-saving to the communist leaders.” 

On Monday, Bal Krishna Khand, who is the Home Minister, commented on the interpretive declaration in a rather mocking tone. In a video clip that has made rounds on social media, Khand says “there is nothing in the interpretive declaration which is not there in the Compact.” “What is the difference between the MCC Compact and the interpretive declaration?” He asks and answers himself: “The MCC Compact is in English but the interpretive declaration is in both English and Nepali.” 

Observers say that such comments on the interpretive declaration agreed to by Nepali Congress and other parties in the coalition and ratified by parliament undermine their own credibility and could only help to revive the controversies which the interpretive declaration had put to rest.  According to them, such statements are unwelcome at a time when they need to be working and facilitating the implementation process of the MCC projects. 

“It’s unwise to say the interpretive declaration has no meaning,” said Purna Silwal, the author of Nepal’s Instability Conundrum: Navigating Political, Military, Economic and Diplomatic Landscape. “It is meaningful in terms of domestic politics. If there was no declaration the MCC would not have been ratified.” 

Lawmakers including Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba raise their hands to endorse MCC Compact during voting held at a Parliament meeting. (Photo: RSS)

According to him, it is irresponsible on part of those parties and people who endorsed it from parliament to now say that it has no value. “It helped to end the anti-MCC protests in Kathmandu and it paved the way for project implementation. It is not right to dismiss it by those actors who were involved in passing it,” said Silwal. 

Legal experts argue that though the interpretive declaration has no legal value it is still meaningful. “It’s got no legal validity but it is still meaningful,” said Jivesh Jha, a legal expert. “It allowed the Compact to be ratified and ended the controversies and disputes around the compact. Now the focus of the parties which endorsed the Compact should be to help in its implementation,” he said.

According to Jha, to speak against it or to dismiss it would be against the doctrine of estoppel which does not allow a person to speak something to the contrary of what is implied by the previous action. 

“To speak against or dismiss the document which helped ratify the international agreement will only help to revive the disputes which the interpretive declaration has helped to end,” Jha concluded.

Observers also say that Nepali Congress is undermining the parliament by speaking against the document which the party itself approved from parliament. Such aberrations, they say, are unbecoming of Nepali Congress which claims to believe in and uphold the parliamentary norms and values. Such an act might earn them some popularity from the cadres but it will set a wrong precedent in history. If the document was meaningless, Congress lawmakers should have told so to the people through parliament.