The time for debating on the MCC compact is over, and the parties must now take a firm stand on the issue

The responses of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to the queries fielded by the Nepal government should put to rest the apprehensions that the people of this country have been harbouring about the bilateral compact reached between Nepal and the United States of America for many months.

But will it? There is no unanimity among experts and political parties, including those in the coalition government, that the MCC compact is in the interest of Nepal, even though the MCC has said that it is not part of a military alliance or defense strategy of the United States. The 13-page written response to questions raised by the Nepal government was sent by MCC Vice President Fatema Sumar to Nepal's Minister for Finance Janardan Sharma, whose content was made available by the US embassy in Kathmandu on Wednesday, on the eve of Sumar's scheduled visit to Nepal. It has clarified that the compact is not part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, or any US military strategy – a major concern of the Nepal government.

The MCC compact was signed between the two countries in September four years ago, under which Nepal sets to benefit from a US$ 500 million largesse from the U.S. government, with Nepal chipping in US$ 130 million for the $630 million programme. The agreement envisages the construction of a 318-kilometre-long, 400 KV transmission lines in the Lap- with three high-capacity substations and maintenance of about 300 km of roads on the East West Highway. The grant is said to benefit nearly 23 million people by providing more reliable electricity and lowering the cost of transportation and energy.

Nepal is not the only country with which the U.S. government has signed the MCC compact, and all of them seem to be proceeding very smoothly, barring Sri Lanka. If Nepal were to benefit economically from the projects, why has the compact suddenly found itself mired in controversy years after it was signed? Why are questions being raised about sovereignty being undermined and the compact being part of the Indo-Pacific strategy? Even land acquired for the transmission project has had civil society members protesting as land grab. Could it be that Nepal fears being caught in the middle of a dangerous US-China rivalry? As a financial agreement between two countries of a short-term duration, one fails to understand why Nepal's Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs deemed it necessary to have it approved by the parliament. Why didn't similar agreements in the past go through a similar procedure? As things stand now, it is unclear if the compact will be approved by the parliament. While the Nepali Congress is for it, the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre) wants certain amendments before it can be endorsed, to which the MCC has said that this could not be done at this time. And CPN (UML) chair KP Sharma Oli, who kept mum on the MCC agreement while in the government, is already singing a different tune now that he is in the opposition. Time is running out as the compact must be implemented within five years.

The time for debating on the issue is over, and the parties must now take a firm stand on the issue.

Literacy scenario

Although Nepal has achieved much progress in enhancing the literacy rate, 32 districts and 218 local levels of the country have yet to become fully literate.

As per the statistics, the literacy rate of those in the age group 15 and above currently stands at 67.9 per cent while the literacy rate of males belonging to this age group is 78.6 per cent. The female literacy rate stands at 59.7 per cent, almost 19 percentage points less than the male counterpart. It means the government needs to invest more in increasing the female literacy rate, especially in the rural parts.

Marking International Literacy Day on Wednesday, the Centre for Education and Human Resources Development has stated that the coronavirus pandemic has forced educational institutes to shift to online classes, which has created a digital divide between the haves and have-nots. The coronavirus has mainly affected the non-formal education sector, where majority of the middle-aged people and drop-out children were taking benefit from this programme funded by the government. As most of the people above 20 years of age have already been immunised, both formal and non-formal education should be conducted in-person to increase the literacy rate.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 10 2021, of The Himalayan Times.