Working in the development sector for a long time, DR. PRABIN MANANDHAR, is now country director of Development for World Service, The Lutheran World Federation Nepal. Also a steering committee member of Association of International NGOs (AIN) in Nepal, Manandhar spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues related to the role of NGOs and INGOs in development. Excerpts:
How do you see the larger context of INGOs and how are they looked at by various stakeholders, including the government?
There is a lot of confusion about INGOs. Are they donors? Or Are they NGOs or are they parts of the global civil society movement, or are they just from the private sector?
What is it then?
A notion in USA takes INGOs as private voluntary organizations. In other contexts, they look at them as non-profit making organizations. I largely see INGOs as part of the global civil society movement and their mission is very close to that of the NGOs. They have a role in both the supply side, in providing services to the people, and the demand side. They are encouraging the people’s voices to make the state more accountable in the demand for services and more accountable and sensitive towards human rights and sensitive towards the needs and demands of the poorest.
Do you think they can work as service delivery institution of the government?
INGOs cannot work as a service delivery arm of the government. They are closely associated with the civil society movement. To address the underlying causes, all organizations will have to work on the demand side. INGOs have a strong role to play as the Nepali civil society organizations on the demand side of governance. This is something the government may not like. When you talk of the demand side, it has a very thin line with the political agitation and campaigns. Ultimately empowerment has to do with civil and political rights, which the government does not want at this stage of political transition in Nepal.
How do you see the government response to INGOs work?
I strongly believe that the government should own the work of the INGOs and NGOs. INGOs and NGOs are not outside the government -- they work within the framework of the government. So anything done by them must be owned by the government. I attended a couple of international conferences recently outside Nepal. I was amazed to see the government officials defending the work of NGOs. They said their achievement is the country’s achievement and their contribution is the government’s contribution. Our government cannot say the same thing. They disown the work done by NGOs. This is bad.
What is the role of the government?
Government’s job is to facilitate, coordinate and monitor. The government should see INGOs as collaborators, not competitors. This is the problem in the context of Nepal as INGOs are seen more as parallel competitors. If the government takes INGOs and NGOs as collaborators, many things will be resolved and the relations among government, NGO and INGOs will improve.
How do you see the role of INGOs in the recent earthquakes?
INGOs have largely contributed to the efforts of the government, both in rescue and relief. LWFN, together with other alliance members, was able to reach more than 50,000 households. This is a large contribution. They also contributed to the NGOs and different kinds of community based organizations as well as other different government bodies. We all worked together in the bigger crisis for effective delivery. The credit must be given to INGOs and NGOs to save the life of the people.
How do you see the role of government agencies?
When I say government, it is not only prime minister, minister and other departments, it also includes Nepal Army, Nepal Police, and Nepal Armed Police -- they did a marvelous job during the earthquake. The government was able to coordinate, but what the government needs to do is they should own the work of NGOs and INGOs as nobody is working outside the purview of the government.
How do you see the coordination at the district level?
During the relief phase, District Disaster Relief Committees were able to coordinate with INGOs. INGOs were given different kinds of project locations in VDCs. Despite the fact that we all are affected, we had good coordination. The government had done really well. INGOs had also done a lot to save the life of people.
Were there any disparities in distribution of relief materials?
Some INGOs went with larger aid packages, including emergency shelter, foods and non-food items, medical supplies and psycho-social counseling. However, some went with only medical support, some with WASH, others with food. As a result, disparities were created as some received total packages and other received only particular facilities.
How was the site selection?
Another issue was related to sites. DDRC did not go to VDCs. It asked INGOs to go to VDCs. What happened was that some NGOs and INGOs went to just a few wards of VDCs and some covered entire VDCs. That was another gap we felt because of lack of dialogue and understanding among DDRC and other stake holders. When we carried out post distribution monitoring, we found disparities. Some received entire packages and other received just some part of relief.
What were other issues?
Most of the INGOs and NGOs did not go to remote areas where there was no transportation as it was not possible for the organizations like LWDF to charter helicopters. I accept the fact that we were unable to reach far and remote areas. However, some of our INGOs and colleagues reached remote areas. As the government has resources and mechanism, it is the responsibility of the government to reach such places.
How do you see the distribution of relief?
Based on my analysis and visit, sixty to seventy percent of the victims reached to the relief camps and some were left out. Within this, twenty percent did not receive the total packages. This is my assessment. However, overall, I am happy to see the coordination and work done by the government. Earthquake is a kind of disaster where everyone is affected.
How do you see the post relief work?
Post relief, I was visiting a couple of districts and what I heard from the government offices was that the government was unable to come up with a coordinating program as PDNA. The government has not allocated any resources to any line agencies yet. This has made the government line agencies confused. They don’t know what to do. They don’t have the budget for five years of reconstruction plan. Hopefully, this will be resolved.
What about the INGOs?
What government officials were telling me was that most of the INGOs which were active in the districts have not gone back to the district with a long term plan. This has clearly shown the gap in how reconstruction will move ahead. Many of the INGOs have not gone with the long term plan as the government has not provided coherent plans and structures. This might create a huge gap as we are passing the monsoon and entering winter. There will be more Internally Displaced Population. What will happen to those? Government should take an immediate step. As the government's priority is not in the earthquake response, because its priority is now resolving the political crisis and promulgating constitution, what will happen to reconstruction?
How do you assess the level of present crisis?
We are dealing with twin crises, political and disaster-related, as disasters cannot be neglected while dealing with political crisis. I get the sense while meeting the CDOs and officials of DDCs that the government is not putting the first priority on earthquake response at present. How will government move and how will it work as it has received millions of rupees in prime minister's relief funds?
Don’t you see the role of INGOs and NGOs at this point?
INGOs and NGOs have a bigger role in regular times. The government does not have a full-absorption capacity even during the normal times -- it is unable to spend fifty percent of its budget and does not have structures for outreach. Here INGOs and NGOs can play a supportive role. As the government is highly centralized, it cannot reach the districts. As a result whatever is decided in the center, it will take a month to reach the village. The money will not reach in time. I firmly believe the government must come up with a fast track approach.
How do you see the civil society movement in Nepal?
I get always puzzled why NGOs are assisted by INGOs only. If there are no INGOs, can NGOs survive in Nepal? Probably not. Ninety five percent of the NGOs use the funding coming from INGOs. Why can the movement not provide their surplus budget to them? Given the present circumstances, INGOs must be given authority to mobilize the local resources. This is the right time to implement such an approach.
Why are INGOs not visible?
Perhaps this might be the case linked to the Social Welfare Council. Does SWC work as a strong apex body of NGOs and INGOs? Was it recognizing by the movement as apex body? How powerful is the minister who leads the related ministry? SWC is a weak body in terms of capacity. However, it can be improved. SWC is not recognized by the government in a larger context. Its decisions are not accepted by the government and minister who heads the SWC, coming from small parties. If NGOs and INGOs are important, the SWC needs to be strengthened. As SWC's role is linked with major ministries, including finance, home, foreign affairs and local development, it must be headed by prime minister.
What do you suggest to make all these institutions effective?
First of all, there is the need to amend the act. The current NGOs act is very old as the act was promulgated to control the social bodies during one party system. Nobody knows how many NGO are working in the development sector. When we reform the foreign aid policy, we need to reform the SWC also.
How effective are INGOs to disseminate the good work done by them?
We don’t have a strong media partnership. If we are doing a good work, we must come forward with our work with strong research and facts. There is the need to have the media better understand the role of INGOs. There is the need to build a relationship of close cooperation between media and INGOs. This way we can make changes.
As there is so much of negative publicity on the work of INGOs, what do you suggest?
We must improve our financial management and our reporting and internal audit systems. As a part of LWFN, we recognize that there is the need to have a strong media partnership. We have started media partnership in all our programs. We need to do this on our part.
Where do INGOs and NGOs focus after MDGs?
MDGs will be completed in December and we will enter the stage of SDGs. I have three comments on MDGs as it is a very technical agreement among the various countries to have a common framework target poverty. MDGs has not done with human rights component and it has not done with disaster component. SDG is connected with disaster. MDG projected as a national achievement and lots o data. As SDG has human rights frame work and it has disaster components it must link with climate change and environment. SDG has also got components to reduce the disparities. Poverty is relative, everything is relative.
How do you view the SDGs?
SDGs provide a global development framework and have impacts on national development. NGOs and INGOs have to work with national governments on their development framework. In terms of priority, one is human development index, education, health and employment, that should be larger priority, and second is governance. Political rights are very important. Governance is more working in civil society parts. We also have work in the identity part, it does not mean ethnicity and cast. It means one is the political element, which is related to political partnership and the other is related to psychological as it is very much emotional and dignity related. Identity has got to do with dignity. Those three elements have to be part and parcel of government. As Nepal is one of the ten vulnerable countries in disaster, Nepal needs to prepare for it. There is also the need to address the vicious cycle of poverty and disaster.
How do you see your role in AIN?
I am in the AIN steering committee for the first time. During the elections, I had shared a couple of my vision and outlines. The first one was the media partnership. AIN must be able to project its identity and make its presence visible by working as a team. Secondly, as I outlined, works for the NGOs registration act and providing input to the Social Welfare Council Act are necessary. Without a legal framework in place, it is very difficult to operate offices. Third, I said that we should be more forward looking as there is going to be SDG as we move ahead. AIN also came out with a Plan of Action. This idea also came from chief secretary Dr. Som Lal Suebedi, with whom AIN team recently held a meeting. There must be proper coordination and lapses must be addressed. INGOs should come up with proper plan of action. AIN must be able to promote INGOs in Nepal and collaboration and support with government of Nepal.