I remember protests staged by the Nepali people against autocratic systems to reestablish democracy in the country. As a result the country now has a federal republic system. However, the tension that had been created along the New Baneshwor and Bijuli Bazaar sector from on 20th February 2022 in protest of the tabling in the Parliament of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant to Nepal was definitely not in the spirit of the democratic system the nation has embraced. The demonstrations of protest against the government have taken place at a time when the country is bracing for three-tier elections. It is also a satirical combination of parties when the RPP is aligning with Biplav and Mohan Baidya-led parties. Clashing with police and burning of tires is the last thing a democratic society wants to see.
This is the time when Nepal, like all other countries, is slowly trying to come out of the restrictions imposed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the lawmakers and the politicians in the coalition government and in the opposition should join hands in preparing inclusive development projects that bring relief to the livelihoods of the people and improve their wellbeing.
The MCC is a US Foreign Assistance Agency partnering with 30 countries to implement projects worth around US $13 billion. In 2017, Nepal had signed the MCC agreement which is worth US$ 630 million. Here the US contribution is US$ 500 million as grant and Nepal’s contribution is US$ 130 million. The MCC Nepal compact includes two projects: a 300-km 400 kilovolt electricity transmission line and the upgradation of 100 km East-West highway. The plan is to put infrastructure in place to sell surplus electricity to India.
As the Nepali people are currently trying to reestablish their livelihoods, any creation of jobs and future prosperity need to be welcomed and implemented without delay. If the Nepali contractors and workers can predominantly execute these projects, it will definitely generate local business opportunities and employment. The requirement before the implementation of the project is for this treaty to be ratified in the parliament. It has been tabled but will it be ratified? As this process has lingered for a long period, the final date of ratification has been given as 28th February 2022. According to AIN, MCC Vice President Fatema Z Sumar has said that the February 28th deadline was set by Prime Minister Deuba and CPN-Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda through a letter the two leaders had jointly dispatched to the MCC Board.
Some confusion about MCC has been with the differing positions of the political parties in the country. It is now important that they come together to actually join hands, this time definitely for the interest of the country and not their own petty party politics. One debate related to the MCC includes the presumption that the US army is interested in making Nepal a base and would therefore compromise the sovereignty of the country. But this line of argument does not hold water as the related agreements refuted this claim. Even the MCC office in Washington and US embassy here has repudiated this logic in their clarification statements.
Nepal has had several insecurity issues within the country due to lack of proper insights and strategic planning to develop the country. Ever since the restoration of democracy, the political parties and their leaders have been bickering for power, leading to political instability. Rather than addressing these issues, the MCC now has been blown out of proportion and the common people have been completely misinformed.
There is a need of clarity and foresighted regarding foreign policy. Nepal has been depending on countries like India, China, USA, UK and others for development and democracy. The time has now come for the political leaders and activists to join hands to make sure that Nepal focuses on an inclusive development agenda which will give relief to the people as they are struggling to emerge out of the impact of the pandemic. In the case of the MCC, there could be disinformation and misinformation regarding the interests of the USA and China, but there could also be the fact that this misinformation could hit the development of Nepal and also set precedence for riots and protest demonstrations. That should be avoided.
MCC should be ratified by ensuring that the laws of Nepal govern all the activities of the projects and in case of controversy the international laws will prevail. In countries like Nepal development has been very much dependent on other countries and multilateral agencies and banks. It is a fact that many such development efforts have faced snags. We need to learn from that and avoid such mistake for the future.
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate email@example.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharma)