MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaragua’s Congress has scuppered a bill backed by thousands of people hoping to block a cross-country canal project, saying the legislature does not have the authority to weigh the issue.
The draft legislation presented by rural dwellers living along the proposed Nicaragua canal’s path “is rejected as inadmissible,” the chamber said, adding that it lacks the “jurisdiction” to handle it, Congress’s first secretary wrote in a letter made public on Monday.
The government hopes the ambitious Nicaragua Canal project will rival Panama’s lucrative canal, which handles five percent of commercial maritime traffic.
Some 28,000 Nicaraguans signed a petition backing the bill, which sought to block the state’s authorization giving the canal project to a Chinese consortium, HKND, to build and run for 50 years. Seven thousand of those signatures were stamped, as required by law. Only 5,000 stamped signatures must be collected for Congress to consider a citizen’s bill.
The legislature argued on Monday that it is unable to debate the citizen’s bill because of a 2013 ruling by the country’s Supreme Court rejecting a complaint against the canal and drawing a line under the issue.
A legal consultant for the petitioning rural citizens, Mónica López, criticized the Congress’s decision, saying the lawmakers were declaring that “the law on the canal is written in stone and 28,000 signatures cannot modify it.” That, she said, was “a legal aberration, an outrageous situation.”
Congress in June 2013 approved a law handing the canal’s operating rights to the HKND consortium, which is tasked with building the gargantuan waterway at a cost of $50 billion.