Will the new NCP panel resolve the MCC row?

KATHMANDU, Feb 3: After its failure to forge a common understanding on the $500 million Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC) grant of the US government, the ruling Nepal Communist Party on Sunday formed a three-member committee to study the grant agreement. The committee has been given 10 days to come up with a solution.

The panel led by former prime minister Jhalanath Khanal includes Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali and former defense minister Bhim Rawal as members. The committee was formed to study the issue after most of the central committee members stood against the US grant meant for building a cross-border electricity transmission lines and road projects.

Speculations are rife that the committee might recommend the party not to endorse the agreement from parliament as the party leaders are sharply divided over the issue. Members of the newly-formed study committee themselves hold conflicting views regarding the MCC grant.

The issue has become a topic of intense debate within the ruling party.

Former prime minister Khanal has been publicly arguing that some provisions of the agreement need a serious review before the grant deal gets a parliamentary nod.

Another member Rawal has been standing against the agreement since the issue surfaced. Arguing that MCC grant was provided to Nepal as part of strengthening a military alliance in South Asia under America’s Indo Pacific Strategy, Rawal has been advocating for scrapping the US grant.

Supporting the stance of Prime Minister KP Oli, Foreign Minister Gyawali, however, is advocating in favor of endorsing the grant agreement from parliament without any further delay. He has been assuring the US that the agreement will be endorsing from the ongoing parliamentary session.

Due to the division within the party, the MCC agreement, which was supposed to be endorsed by the previous session of parliament, has not yet been approved. Instead, the row has deepened in the recent days making it a key issue in party meetings. The MCC grant was the most disputed issue in the NCP central committee meeting that ended Sunday.

Political analysts, however, see the recent development as an effort to endorse the agreement from parliament.

“I think this move will help forge an understanding within the party to clear the way for the party to endorse the grant agreement from parliament,” said Tika Dhakal, a political analyst.

Arguing that there is no space for re–negotiation on the agreement prior to endorsement from parliament, Dhakal said both the countries can work jointly to clarify some issues after the parliament endorses it.

“If you have analyzed Bhim Rawal’s recent remarks, he has also softened his stance on the MCC grant,” he said.

The Oli government is under pressure to endorse the agreement from the parliament as the US Senate has already endorsed it. The US has not released the money for implementing the projects citing the delay in approval by the parliament of Nepal. The government of Nepal has been paying the salaries to the MCC staffers and consultants in Nepal.

In an attempt to garner their support, Prime Minister Oli invited lawmakers to Baluwatar for a dinner reception on Sunday evening.

Gautam is NCP Vice-chair 
The NCP central committee meeting concluded by issuing an 11-point resolution on contemporary political issues. The meeting has approved both political and organizational reports with minor changes.

The five-day long CC meeting decided to elevate senior leader Bamdev Gautam to the post of vice chairperson unanimously. The meeting also approved the roles and responsibilities of the vice chairperson.

Gautam was eyeing the post for a long time. Earlier, in October last year, the party had unofficially decided to elevate Gautam to the post of vice chair.

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