The United Mission to Nepal (UMN) has worked in Nepal for more than half a century. The INGO has contributed to Nepal’s modernisation by supporting expansion of modern health services, education, drinking water supply, sanitation, electricity, and what not.
Although UMN’s role in the humanitarian sector is unmatched, it always faced one or the other hurdle as it worked over the decades. Be it in the period of monarchy, or that of Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, or UCPN-Maoist, the concerned government ministry has always tried to curtail the role of INGOs. Presently, a Madheshi minister is set to give them a rougher deal. Development projects submitted for clearance have been put beneath the table of minister Sarbadev Ojha, who represents Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik).
After a tussle with the member secretary, Ojha, the Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare, declined to give a go-ahead to proposals sent to the ministry for approval. The delay in getting the ministry’s approval has forced UMN, among others, to postpone several projects.
Minister Ojha is virtually stopping all INGOs from getting down to their work plans in the humanitarian sector. By holding the files, Ojha reasoned, he wanted to prevent member secretary of Social Welfare Council Chhewanng Lama Sherpa from indulging in growing irregularities in his dealings with INGOs and NGOs.
“I have made several efforts to control corruption in the Social Welfare Council. When officials didn’t listen to me, I was compelled to take this decision. I have solid evidences to show how member secretary and his team indulged in corruption in their dealings with INGOs,” Minister Ojha told New Spotlight. Ojha is the chairman of the council.
Member secretary Chhewang Lama Sherpa denied this and termed minister Ojha’s action politically motivated. “This is a baseless charge. I will not continue in my post if anybody found me guilty,” challenged Sherpa.
Minister Ojha dismissed Sherpa and his team members, who were nominated by Maoist government for four years. But they were reinstated under the Court’s order.
The Association of International Non-Governmental Organisation (AIN) has already expressed its serious concern over the pending agreements of 36 International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) working in Nepal and the heavy impact the delay is having on the projects.
“INGOs are experiencing unusually protracted waiting times. These delays are incurred at the General Agreement level as well as Project Agreement level and the vast majority of agreements are held at the Project Approval and Facilitation Committee,” said a senior official of AIN.
The average waiting time is unusually long in excess of 7 months and this relates to project agreements that are currently pending as reported to the Association of International NGOs.
Although all INGOs have accepted and are adhering to the regulations that request that projects be discussed and endorsed by District Development Committees (DDCs) prior to submission to the Social Welfare Council, the ministry is currently holding them without citing any valid reasons.
“The delay in approving projects has extremely serious consequences which include but are not limited to serious repercussions on our programmes and the people we serve: lack of protection, lack of access to life-saving services that could result in injuries, life-long disabilities or even death,” said an AIN official.
Foreign experts working in these INGOs are facing problems as their visas are expiring and cannot be renewed prior to the approval of the agreements.
The Government of Nepal has committed itself on numerous occasions that it will support INGOs for their aid and assist them in development and humanitarian projects. Amongst these commitments are the Basic Operating Guidelines (BOGs) which were endorsed by all major development actors in Nepal. urges all concerned to allow full access by development
Role of INGOs
INGOs have been supporting programs to improve the livelihood of tens of thousands of poor people in Nepal from enrolment in schools, and building suspension bridges to promoting civil rights, inclusion, and constitution making.
However, Minister Ojha’s petty tussle with the SWC member secretary has stalled everything. “If the situation prolongs, it will be very difficult for INGOs to work,” said Phanindra Adhikari, chairperson of Association of International NGOs. “The delay has already created a number of problems.”
Clause 15 of the Social Welfare Council Act says any foreign non-governmental organization, if it desires to work within Nepal, shall submit an application to the Council for permission. The council, after receiving the duly submitted application, may give a decision within three months. The organization will need to reach an agreement with the Council to start work.
Delay in project approvals directly affect the most vulnerable groups in Nepal, namely children and persons with disabilities, children, ethnic minorities, and discriminated groups.
Work in health care, education, human rights, anti-trafficking, community-based rehabilitation, infrastructure, and poverty alleviation are also affected. In some cases, the ministries have added delay to project approval by insisting on the inclusion of infrastructure projects, even demanding these of INGOs that work with governance, capacity building and human rights, i.e. non-infrastructure projects.
“The current political stalemate between the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and the Social Welfare Council has challenged the one-window policy which has been in existence for decades. INGOs are shuffled from government office to government office in search of someone who is willing to process the pending general/project agreements, to no avail,” said the AIN official.
Founded in 1995, AIN is an umbrella organization of more than 90 INGOs working in Nepal with a shared goal of poverty reduction and sustainable development.
Nepal’s Foreign Aid Policy stresses the need of INGOs in development sectors.
Strengthening the Social Welfare Council’s role and giving it full autonomy to deal with INGOs and NGOs is one the basics of Nepal’s Foreign Aid Policy. However, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MWCSW) hardly follows this.
MWCSW also declined suggestions by the Finance Ministry to go by the aid policy.
“If necessary, we will intervene. This kind of situation cannot go for long. The Finance Ministry has taken the issue seriously,” said a senior official at Foreign Aid Division of the Finance Ministry.
“I want to bring the INGOs and SWC on the right track. The pending files will have to come to me,” said minister Ojha.
“INGO-NGO partnership Guidelines for working in Nepal clearly mention about accountability and transparency. The AIN members need to show who we are and how we raise and use our resources, maintain records and make the decisions that affect all rights holders involved in our work,” said an INGO official.
“We are accountable to our stakeholders, and rights holders for the effectiveness and efficiency with which we use the resources we mobilize.”
As minister Ojha is critical about the role of INGOs, National Planning Commission’s recently released three years interim plan 2010-13 recognizes and appreciates the role played by the INGOs in development process. From bloody Maoist insurgency to phases of uncertainty, INGOs have faced a series of problems. The present is one of the worst.