Stakeholders Urge Transparency Amid Beijing’s Push for Early BRI Projects in Nepal

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KATHMANDU, April 26: Experts and lawmakers have emphasized the importance of transparency regarding the ongoing negotiations on BRI projects, particularly as Beijing intensifies efforts to finalize the BRI implementation plan agreement with Nepal.

At an international seminar titled “Reflecting on BRI: Experiences and Lessons from South Asia,” organized by the Centre for Social Innovation and Foreign Policy (CESIF) in the capital on Thursday, participants stressed the need for broader parliamentary discussions on BRI. They urged the government to publicize the BRI MoU signed with China in 2017 for public scrutiny.

This discussion coincides with a segment of the population in Nepal expressing concerns about the logic and significance of the BRI Implementation Plan Agreement, advocating instead for negotiations on a project-by-project basis. Notably, during the recent visit of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha to China, Nepal and China agreed to conclude the BRI Implementation Plan and expedite the implementation of BRI projects in Nepal in accordance with the plan.

In his keynote speech, Raj Kishor Yadav, chairman of the International Relations and Tourism Committee of the federal parliament, echoed the call for broader parliamentary engagement on BRI. He emphasized the necessity for the government to clarify the current status of negotiations on BRI and cautioned against opting for commercial loans. Yadav advocated for negotiations with China focusing on grants and concessional loans with interest rates comparable to those offered by other multilateral financial institutions.

Also speaking as a keynote speaker, former Finance Minister Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat reiterated the importance of Nepal adopting a consistent approach to financial support from all sources, emphasizing that the origin of support should not overshadow its alignment with the country’s national interest.

In his welcoming address, Executive Chairperson of CESIF Vijay Kant Karna raised concerns about the BRI Implementation Plan Agreement, advocating for negotiations on an individual project basis to accommodate the diverse nature of projects.

Subsequent sessions featured presentations from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India, each providing insights into their experiences with BRI. Common themes included concerns over transparency, viability assessment, and environmental impact.

Elaborating on Nepal’s engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), senior journalist Anil Giri highlighted a pervasive lack of comprehension about BRI among policymakers, politicians, and the ordinary public in Nepal. Giri emphasized the necessity of forging a national consensus on the foundational principles of negotiation to effectively navigate the BRI landscape. He particularly underscored the need for clarity amidst ambiguous conditions in the MoU, such as policy exchange and financial integration.

Talal Rafi, economist and fellow at Oxford Global Society, Sri Lanka, shed light on various challenges encountered in Sri Lanka’s experience with BRI projects. He noted a lack of transparency, ad-hoc planning and the selection of projects without proper commercial viability assessment, alongside environmental concerns.

While also acknowledging the potential benefits, Rafi cautioned that the sluggish pace of debt negotiation with China is impeding Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.

Associate Professor at Jahangirnagar University of Bangladesh, Mostakim Bin Motaher, drew attention to the significant surge in China’s involvement in Bangladesh’s infrastructure development in recent years, accompanied by deepening trade and investment ties. Motaher highlighted common features of projects financed by China, including cost escalation, non-transparent bidding procedures and execution delays.

Dr. Constantino Xavier delineated three key reasons behind India’s decision to abstain from the BRI. He emphasized the unilateral nature of the initiative, driven and led by China, which conflicts with India’s strategic and economic interests. Xavier also cited concerns about India’s capacity to absorb capital and highlighted the repercussions of India’s decision on its relations with neighboring countries. In emphasizing Nepal’s need to enhance self-reliance and capacity development, Xavier stressed the importance of independent strategic planning.

The seminar aimed at exploring both the opportunities and challenges presented by BRI in Nepal, particularly against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations for the BRI implementation plan agreement. The seminar also facilitated panel discussions, focusing on Nepal’s specific concerns and lessons learned from other South Asian countries’ experiences with BRI. These discussions emphasized the need for transparency, strategic negotiation, and a comprehensive understanding of each project’s implications.

 

Source: Republica