Nepal House speaker embroiled in MCC row

A civil society group has urged Nepal’s political parties to take action against House Speaker Agni Sapkota, who they say has continuously violated the responsibilities and expectations vested in him as Speaker.

A day after the statement, and right on cue, Sapkota for the second time postponed by a week a scheduled session of Parliament that for Wednesday, 9 February. The suspicion is that the speaker is trying to block the ratification by the House of the controversial American-supported Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) project.

The row has threatened to split the five-member ruling coalition, with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) supporting it while two Communist party members of the governing alliance opposing it.

The Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialists fear that Deuba may team up with the opposition UML to pass the MCC automatically leading to a collapse of the coalition. The alliance is important to the two communist parties because they broke away last year from the NCP, and are not fully ready for elections this year. 

Read also: Maoists backpedal on MCC letter, Nepali Times

Anti-MCC protests at Maitighar Mandala and Parliament on Wednesday. Photos: MAIT MACHAMASI

‘It is the institutional and legal duty of the Speaker to facilitate the placement of all bills presented by the government before the House,’ the civil society statement reads,  accusing Sapkota of holding up ratification for two years. 

Sapkota, a close confidante of Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal,  has used the UML’s obstruction of Parliament as an excuse to postpone house sessions, effectively blocking parliamentary discussion of the $500 million American-supported project to upgrade transmission lines and highways in Nepal

Supporters of the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialists on Wednesday staged a street rally outside Parliament in support of the speaker and against the MCC.  

Disagreement within the governing coalition prompted Sapkota to postpone Wednesday’s parliament meeting, hours before it was set to begin, to 14 February. The US has said that the project needs to be ratified by parliament by 28 February, and the Chinese have been lobbying actively against it – adding a geopolitical element to the row.

While Prime Minister Deuba backs the project, his alliance partners Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Moaist Centre and Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Socialist) have been fiercely opposed to it.

Read also: MCC row damages Nepal’s credibility, Ramesh Kumar

The open letter from civil society notes that the Speaker has sought to evade the Constitution and relevant laws in order to exercise executive powers since the day of his appointment, even though Nepal’s parliamentary system does not grant such powers to the Speaker.

“The main political parties must immediately take action on Agni Sapkota in order to protect the values and principles of the parliamentary system,” the statement reads.  

Agni Sapkota was appointed Speaker in January 2020 even though he has been accused of summary execution during the conflict, with cases against him pending in Nepal’s Supreme Court.

Sapkota was a central committee member and leader of the underground Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) in Sindhupalchok during the armed insurgency and said to be involved in the April 2005 abduction and subsequent killing of civic leader Arjun Bahadur Lama from Kavre district.  Arjun Lama’s wife Purnimaya Lama is one of the signatories of the appeal.

The district police had initially refused to register an FIR on the case, until a 2018 directive from the Supreme Court to the Kavre police to investigate the case and submit monthly reports. 

Read also: Speechless, Sewa Bhattarai

The open letter says the fact that Sapkota has continuously occupied high political positions makes it clear that the police have been intimidated while conducting investigation. 

“Influencing the police administration by virtue of his position of power … and by remaining an absconder on the murder case of Arjun Lama, Agni Sapkota is responsible for obstructing justice in the particular case and contributing to the general weakening of the law and justice system in the country,” the statement reads.

The signatories of the appeal include Purnimaya Lama, Badri Prasad Bhusal, Bhagiram Chowdhary,  Indra Prasad Aryal, Kanak Mani Dixit,   Kedar Narshing KC, Maina Karki, Manamunishwar Acharya,  Rajan Kuikel, Sabitri Shrestha, Suman Adhikari,  Surya Bahadur Adhikari,  Sushil Pyakurel, and Yagya Raj Thapa.

Read also: 14 years after conflict, no closure in Nepal, Nepali Times