How do you look at the role of INGOs in Nepal's development?
International Non-governmental Organizations have played a very important role in Nepal's development activities for the last six decade. They have made some visible and some invisible contributions to the development works, targeting the poor, marginalized and vulnerable people living in the remote parts of Nepal. INGOs have also helped link the rural and urban areas through their programs. Talks of Nepal's development process minus INGOs will be incomplete. INGOs were in Nepal when the concept of bilateral development partners had not been conceived. INGOs came to work in Nepal when the country did not have the necessary technology, technicians, including doctors and para-medics. They played an important role even in the literacy campaign of the country.
How are the INGOs doing now?
The role of INGOs has changed in the present context. In the early days, they played a role as charity organizations, supporting the poor, vulnerable and rural people, who didn't have any access to modern methods and technologies. However, INGOs are now supporting empowerment and advocacy programs to increase the access of vulnerable and marginalized communities in the existing opportunities. With the arrival of new entities, like NGOS and civil society organizations, INGOs have shifted their focus. As the role of the state is building infrastructure and other major works, INGOs and civil societies are providing financial support to supplement and compliment the programs for certain periods of time.
How has the new Development Cooperation Policy affected the role of INGOs in Nepal, particularly of the members of AIN?
Some of the clauses mentioned in the policy have directly affected the INGOs working in Nepal. We have already handed over our written concerns to the Ministry of Finance. One of our concerns is that the policy does not define the role of INGOs in the development sector. Another concern is barring access of INGOs in the funding earmarked by the bilateral agencies. The policy is not clear. We have requested the government to clarify it. Similarly, we have also demanded a one-window policy for the INGOs. We have also requested the government to fix the national priority sector for the INGOs. The government has to make it clear what its priority sectors are and where the INGOs can work.
What do INGOs actually want?
We want conducive atmosphere to work. Instead of visiting various ministries, council and departments for the projects, we want to have one institution to submit our projects and decide on them. However, the new policy has created additional layer for project approval. For instance, the policy has directed the INGOs to coordinate with the concerned ministries before submitting the project. The word coordination is vague and flawed in this context. Our demand is that our validation should start from the ministry where we initiate our process. In the name of coordination, the policy has created ambiguity and confusion. The word coordination should be qualified. Is it just for approval, nod or something else? Our request is not to create a paper tiger.
Why are you so much concerned about it?
There is a limitation for INGOs to raise funds and there are challenges as well. There are many countries around the world which need funds like us. INGOs have to compete with other INGOs to bring funds in Nepal. Fund raising is not an easy task. It is not possible to raise funds with the approval of any ministry. INGOs are now raising the funds given the national priority. Currently, a Project Facilitation Committee under the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, which consists of joint secretaries of various ministries, is responsible for the approval of projects submitted by INGOs. The committee should coordinate with subject ministries. The government has to have a clear policy on INGOs and how it looks at us. There is a need of a clear policy on this. The government has to make it clear whether they want INGOs or not. They have to make a choice.
Do you mean the present policy is against them?
The policy even overrides the act. There are national priorities set by the National Planning Commission, guided by the Interim Plan and laws and regulations. Then comes the policy. However, the present policy overrides guidance, directives of the plan and law. There is no harmony of this document with other existing policies, laws and regulations. The Social Welfare Council has already made it clear that the current Development Cooperation Policy is against the spirit of the Social Welfare Council Act. In celebrating the Social Welfare Council Day in the presence of vice president and chairman of the Council and Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare Neelam K.C, member secretary of Social Welfare Council Rabindra Kumar challenged that the new policy is against the present act and it will ultimately affect the social development sector. He said that council has already lodged its complaint with the Ministry of Finance demanding its amendment. This shows that there is a lack of coordination among the ministries.
What are priorities of INGOs now?
We are now currently working in education, agriculture, forest, infrastructure, health, disasters, women empowerment, and basic needs, with focus on the poor and marginalized communities. Our programs are directed to the poorest of the poor. Out of total foreign aid, INGOs' contribution is about 12 percent. It is not a big money in terms of bilateral and multi-lateral contributions. That is, in terms of the size of the fund, this is not a big money. However, in terms of reach, effectiveness and good governance, we are much ahead.
If there are so many disputes, how are INGOs currently working in Nepal?
Till now, we are following our usual way. We submit our project to the Social Welfare Council and then we launch the programs and projects after the approval by Project Facilitation Committee of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. After the publication of the new policy, we have already informed our members to report to us if there is any difficulty in the approval of the projects. However, we have not received any complaints from our members. Our projects are smoothly running now. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and Social Welfare Council want to ensure provisions of the present Act prevail.
Is there any difficulty to get the project approval?
There are no major hassles in the process of project approval in various government offices. However, it is time consuming. AIN wants to see the implementation of a one-window policy. That is all. In paper, they talk about one-window policy. However, it is the opposite in practice. Our experiences are that each ministry of the government is operating separately. This kind of situation damages the image of Nepal and sends a bad message to all. One ministry doesn't approve the decision of the other ministry. As Nepalis, this is humiliating for us.
There were reports in the past that foreigners working in INGOs faced a problem in getting visa in the name of work permit. What is the state now?
All our expat friends have work permits. So far as getting visas are concerned in Nepal, AIN and all the INGOs in Nepal share similar stands. We believe that those who come to work in INGOs are not business persons, nor do they work for profit. Since they come to work in Nepal with social motivation, they should get the waiver from the work permit procedure. The government should have different approach to look at us. We should be given the privilege and there should be welcoming environment for the expats who work in INGOs. We don't have any objection to acquire work permit as we abide by the law. However, our demand is that work permit should be issued as per the human resources agreed in the project by Social Welfare Council and Project Facilitation Committee of Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. We want work permit on the basis of the Project approval document. We want our visa status to be different from those who work here in industry and business sector since our expats come to work in Nepal to support government's development policies.
Since INGOs have made such a big contribution in Nepal's various sectors by remaining in forefront in times of need, including during the recent flooding and disasters, why are they not getting the needed attention then?
First of all, there is a confusion among the people on the role of agencies -- bilateral, multilateral and INGOs. People term all development partners as INGOs. There is some misunderstanding even among the media persons on the interpretation of INGOs. Among the donor communities, INGOs are the most visible. We are in the forefront. We are visible in all the districts and all over the country. We are working with the grassroots level partner organizations. This may be one of the reasons for confusion. I can see there is also jealousy among Nepalese towards those working in INGOs. They believe that those who work in INGOs get higher salaries and benefits. There is a misconception about INGOs. I am not saying that all the INGOs are absolutely right. Of course, there are certain wrong things within the INGOs also. Our zeal, aim and commitment are to support Nepal's development efforts. If there is something wrong, we should acknowledge this. There is the need to have a strong monitoring and evaluation mechanism to look at our work. We will be put in surveillance and watched. Those who are responsible should be punished. There should be no generalization of one wrong thing as applying to all INGOs.
How are the contributions of INGOs noted in the society?
There is a tradition of passing superficial comments when it comes to such issues. This year we have released more than 140 million rupees at the grass roots level. Even the prime minister has appreciated our role. We all are from the same society. But there is a tendency to look at INGOs as more sensational subjects.
How many INGOs are now affiliated with AIN?
There are 114 INGOs currently associated with AIN with 168 expats working in Nepal. Out of 114, more than half their heads are Nepali. In some INGOs, there is a policy not to employ citizens of the same country. There are 6,000 Nepalese directly employed under INGOs payroll. Besides that there are also a lot of others working with our partner organizations.