“INGOs, GOs Both Have Their Role”

RAJENDRA MULMI, chairperson of Association of INGOs in Nepal (AIN), and country director of Search for Common Ground, spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues regarding the role of INGOs in Nepal’s development process and rescue, relief and rehabilit

Aug. 28, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 09, No. -5, August 28 2015 (Bhadra 11, 2072)

What are the priorities of INGOs, particularly the members of AIN?

One of our major priorities is to pursue operations regulation for INGOs aimed to make a stable administrative framework in the country. In the past, we have been talking about the need to have a one window policy. We want clarity where there are confusions. INGOs also prefer a one window policy rather than multiple windows. We are requesting the government to strengthen the Social Welfare Council and make it an institution to deal with all INGOs and NGOs related activities.  It should be made a strong institution.

How do you look at the INGOs?

INGOs are one of the main development partners of Nepal. They also have significant contributions in Nepal’s development process. However, their contributions are yet to be understood by all in Nepal. Our second priority is to make the situation where concerned stakeholders should realize our contributions. Of course, INGOs have shortcomings, too. What we want to see is INGOs should make their contributions in Nepal. People should get the proper picture of INGOs. It is the duty of government and public to observe the activities of INGOs and point out what they are doing right and what was wrong. We want to see a report that shows our successes as well as shortcomings.

What role do you perceive for SDG?

AIN’s other priorities are to strengthen coordination at work conducted in field levels. Since its establishment, AIN has committed itself to transparency and accountability. We want to see the work strengthen further. As MDG’s will be replaced by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from next year, we are in the process to create INGOs' role in SDGs. We are working in the priorities.

What has been the role of INGOs after the earthquakes?

Following the earthquakes, our whole focus shifted to what the need was. This has changed our program and policies.  Out of 120 AIN members, 85 INGOs directly worked in earthquake response. They worked in rescue and relief in the early phase and now in the rehabilitation work. We want to get involved in the reconstruction work also. AIN has been working in Nepal for a long time as a coordination body. More than 90 new INGOs are registered in Nepal after the earthquake. We should have done more effectively and with more coordinative manner.  In any emergency, there is always some lapse in coordination; there is a possibility to have more coordination. During the relief phase, AIN members very effectively worked in affected areas. Nepal government and Social Welfare Organization also recognized this.  One of the good things SWC had done was the use of fast track methodology giving INGOs to directly work in earthquake affected districts coordinating with District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC). The government and SWC facilitated the work very well. The government also gave a  tax exemption on the materials brought for the victims and simplifying the visa procedure. Despite certain gaps, the government was very helpful in relief period. Our AIN members have been effectively working with the DDRC at district level. In some districts, DDRC has given a lead role to INGOs in carrying out relief work. INGOs have been working within the cluster system of the government and UN.

What are the challenges?

One of the challenges is to collect the records of the work done by INGOs. It is natural to see the comments on where INGOs and NGOs have spent money and how much money they spent in relief works. As INGOs have strong internal and external mechanisms for transparency and accountability, our system is open to all.  We also organized an exhibition to share information on the work done by INGOs. This is an ongoing process.  INGOs have their own regulatory mechanism, annual audit and mechanism to submit data to SWC. In this sense also, SWC has demanded the report. As a coordinative body, it can ask for such a report. All AIN members are ready to submit the report but they want the time frame to go a little longer. We believe that there is a central system where all information should be accumulated.

How do you see SWC’s Role?

In the relief phase, SWC approved our program in fast track and it has now switched from fast track to regular track. This is natural. SWC’s recent policies not to accept the project below six months have created some confusion. The intention is good as the project with longer duration bring better results. As we are still in post disaster phase, it will be difficult to lunch the program integrating with long term development goal. It is absolutely right that there is the need to integrate the program with long term development goals. People still require small projects in the earthquake devastated areas. Thus, we request SWC to review its proposed policy at this time of emergency. In the current post disaster situation, role of small projects are equally important.

What about the visa and tax polices?

So far as visa and tax policies are concerned, the government should consult with INGOs and stakeholders. We want our input in such issues. It is true that Nepal does not need foreign experts as long as such a manpower is available in Nepal. However, in International Organizations like INGOs, foreigners are part of a cross-cultural dynamics, whose experiences in working in other parts of world synergizes our development. There is the need to give space for the expat community. Not only expats coming to Nepal, hundreds of Nepalese have also been working in foreign countries as expats. As Nepalese are getting opportunities in working in International Non-governmental Organizations in other parts of the world, Nepal also needs to reciprocate with the expats communities to share their experiences in Nepal through international organizations. Nepalese are currently working in various parts of world taking responsible and lead roles. On that basis foreigners are also working here. One has to take this as natural. AIN wants to see the facilitation by government on this matter.

What is the state of Project Facilitation?

After the earthquake, projects were quickly approved under the fast track system. SWC member secretary has been saying now that the project approval work should follow the regular process. SWC has announced the Guidelines for Project Facilitation and guidelines for monitoring and evaluation. We have yet to discuss the issues. There is a mixed reaction on project approval. Some members secured the approval earlier than expected and there is a delay in giving approval to others. In some cases, there is some lingering going on with demands for additional documents more than needs for regular process. Some of our members complained that the official demand of unnecessary papers and documents delayed the approval process. Some of our members complained to me last week about these kinds of new demands from the officials. Once the officials listed the needed papers and documents, we wish these kinds of surprises should not be repeated.

What is the contribution of INGOs in social sector?

In the last few months after the earthquake, INGOs have contributed about 300 million US dollars in cash and form.

Which are the areas of contribution?

Earthquake is a major sector of involvement. Other sectors are Education, health, child protection, girl protection, livelihood and economic growth, disaster management, climate change, human rights, democratization and governance. Some organizations are also working in agriculture sector, disability and rural infrastructure.

What role would be there for INGOs in moving from MDGs to SDGs?

As a member of National Planning Commission, Bimala Rai Paudyal, said the role of INGOs will largely be public awareness and empowerment. The role of civil society organizations including INGOs is to empower the people. She said INGOs role in Nepal in future will be to organize and empower the communities and people, involving them in decision making process and supporting them to enhance their capacities. Similarly, INGOs can play an important role in social protection sector, including women empowerment, child protection and social protection. They will be successful in those areas. After the earthquake, we are focusing our attention on how to make the program inclusive and participatory and to ensure the projects include gender and inclusion and to stop politicization and make the projects equitable in distribution.

How do you involve youth?

Many INGOs are launching Youth friendly and directed programs. Democracy and peace building, livelihood and empowerment and education and skill development are programs for youth partnership.

Despite your claims, there is a section of media which blames that INGOs are not working properly and in the right direction, what do you say?

It is true that people, media and government are yet to recognize INGOs for the contribution made by them. There are often negative publicity stuffs coming from them. Media's role is to bring the wrong doing to the fore. We accept this fact. However, the media also need to cover the best practices and good works done by INGOs. We have also set good examples. Media pick up the wrongdoings of INGOs but they never look at the good jobs of INGOs. The narrative that INGOs and NGOs do 'dollar Kheti' (dollar farm) needs to change. This is in nobody’s interest to denounce INGOs and NGOs. Media need to cover everything in black and white. INGOs have a major contribution in achieving MDGs. INGOs and NGOs have made a great contribution but they are not duly respected.

What should be the government’s role?

The role of government is to create conducive environment. The government need not see INGOs as competitors. There is a trend to see it as a competitor. INGOs also need to contribute in the areas of priorities by the government. INGOs and NGOs cannot replace government. There is a clear demarcation of their roles for this. The non-governmental sector is also the watchdog of government. Many government organizations do not like us because INGOs and NGOs do advocacy. Instead of harassing INGOs, the government needs to play the role of a facilitator. Similarly, INGOs also need to respect the government, whether it is weak or capable. There is the need of space for both. There is the need of check and balance to fulfill the development target. Our role and mandate is to make government accountable and responsible. The government also needs to create a regulatory environment. The government should not shrink the space.

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