“NGOs and INGOs, which are coming to support the post-earthquake reconstruction work, have been implementing their programs without the coordination of the government bodies. This is what participants expressed in an annual progress meeting of District Development Committee of Gorkha,” the Kantipur Daily wrote on September 12.
“There is a massive misuse of funds in Gorkha district. INGOs and NGOs working in the earthquake rehabilitation sector are not implementing the programs in line with guidelines of the District Development Committee and District Disaster Relief Coordination Committee. Some INGOs are still distributing cash to victims,” wrote Annapurna Post on 8 September.
According to Annapurna Post, some of the non-government organizations currently working in Gorkha district are so callously insensitive that instead of spending the relief funds on the actual victims they are using it to enjoy helicopter rides from village to village.
The absence of dozens of women MPs in a crucial meeting of Legislature Parliament was the main headline of national newspapers last week. Newspapers blamed an INGO, which had invited the MPs to take part in one of the orientation programs, for this.
These three are not the lone events, which projected NGOs and INGOs in negative light recently. Almost every day, various newspapers are publishing news related to the wrongdoing of NGOs and INGOs in various districts.
Along with media campaigns, political parties are also expressing unfriendly remarks towards them. Leaders of the mainstream political parties are raising the issue of NGOs and INGOs, charging them as meddling with Nepal’s internal affairs. Furthermore, CPN-Maoist caders attacked the office buildings of international relief NGOs and fired the vehicles in Nuwakot and Sindhupalchowk districts.
A more extreme statement has come from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Ministry, which is supposed to monitor and register their activities, has come out with strong reactions about these organizations. The Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the registration of the NGOs, has issued the direction to all chief district officers not to attend the functions of NGOs and INGOs as chief guests.
“This is too extreme a reaction of the ministry, which is supposed to monitor the activities of the NGOs, to bar its officials from observing the projects,” said eminent constitutional lawyer Dr. Surya Dhungel. “If NGOs have been doing wrong, the ministry has to take actions.”
With growing pressure from various sections, the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare is delaying the project facilitation work and Department of Labor is intervening in the affairs of social welfare, asking heads of INGOs to take work permit.
There is no single day left when newspapers published from Kathmandu do not have a story on the misdeeds of NGOs and INGOs in Gorkha and other districts. Media reports have been projecting that NGOs and INGOs have been misusing the funds allocated to the earthquake victims and other development works.
“NGOs and INGOs are presenting fake progress reports in the name of conducting the livelihood programs,” said Dhurba Raj Parajuli, secretary of Laprak VDC of Gorkha. According to Kantipur, District Livestock Officer of Gorkha Jagatbandhu Nepal complained that the cattle given to earthquake victims are dying. “We were not informed about the cattle distributed to them.”
With over 50,000 registered NGOs in the country, no one can deny the fact that some NGOS might have committed misdeeds. “It is wrong to blame all NGOs and INGOs for wrongdoing. There are many NGOs and INGOs, which have also been doing very effective work. There is the need to recognize the role played by us,” said Gopal Lamsal, president of Non-Governmental Organizations Federation of Nepal, an umbrella organization of NGOs. “NGOs cannot alone be blamed for all the failures. We don’t understand the reason behind continual attack against us. If there is something wrong, we are ready to cooperate with concerned authorities.”
What Went Wrong
In a more liberalized society where monitoring of Social Welfare Council is weak, a free for all is not surprising. It seems that some NGOs and INGOs hurt the core interest of particular groups or forces. Since the trend is increasing among NGOs and INGOs to undermine the government institutions and social and cultural values in implementing the program, many people blame NGOs and INGOs for religious conversion, ethnic and caste tensions.
Speaker of Legislature Parliament Onsari Gharti even threatened action against those MPs who were absent from the House session and attended the programs organized by NGOs. “I can take action against those who give priority to NGO programs than parliamentary sessions,” said speaker Gharti, pointing to the recent absence of a dozen female MPs.
With most of the NGOs reportedly affiliated to CPN-UML, Maoist Center and Nepali Congress leaders are not happy with the intervention of NGOs in Nepal. CPN-UML even has NGO department in the party.
Another reason is NGOs are working in the district as a parallel or more influential organization challenging the political parties.
With the rise of NGOs and INGOs working against core values of Nepal and reportedly promoting ethnic and religious disputes, even Nepal’s two neighbors are said to have expressed concern with Nepal government. The recent organized campaign against the NGOs and INGOs has several factions.
As INGOs and NGOs annually contribute over 10 billion rupees to various grass root level development activities in Nepal, it is impossible to discard their role. According to the report submitted by them to the Social Welfare Council, NGOs and INGOs are contributing in the sector Nepal government does not have a reach.
“We have been working in Nepal in all sectors supporting the government as a partner. We are the first to reach the disaster-hit areas. We are the first to distribute the relief to needy people and we are the champions of a liberal democratic order,” said Sharmilaa Karki, former president of the NGO Federation of Nepal. “Of course, there are some NGOs which are misusing funds, but it is an injustice to blame all. There is also the Social Welfare Council to regulate our activities.”
Nepal government has regarded the role of NGOs as that of facilitator of change whose contributions are essential to the achievement of its development goals. With the establishment of Social Welfare Coordination Council in 1983, the country started to mobilize NGOs and community organizations in community works.
Since then all periodic five-year plan underlined the need to involve NGOs in reaching basic needs and targets. After the 1990, all the governments and political parties highlighted the indispensability of collaboration between the government and the NGOs, and encouraged the formation of community-based organizations and their village-level participation in Nepal's development efforts.
As the Social Service National Coordination (SSNCC) Act was promulgated in 1977 and formed the SSNCC to coordinate, and supervise the NGO activities in Nepal, the registration of NGOs and INGOs started in Nepal.
There were only 17 NGOs in 1977 and a few INGOs, which were registered with the then SSNCC. With the change of political system in 1990, the new Social Welfare Council (SWC) 1993 replaced the old one and there were just 393 in 1993.
However, the situation is different. There are over 40,000 NGOs registered with SWC and over 280 INGOS. If it includes other organizations which are not affiliated with the SWC only registered at District Administration Offices (DAOs), the total number of NGOs can reach more than 100,000.
The government accepts the fact that NGOs and INGOs are inevitable parts of the Nepalese society and they can provide effective services as well given an effective and efficient regulatory body.
Although the current Social Welfare Council Act gives Social Welfare Council enormous authority to monitor and regulate the NGOs and INGOs activities, it is unable to do so because of frequent interference on its legal jurisdiction by various government ministries. Due to interventions of various government offices and politicization in appointment of officials, Social Welfare Council is virtually defunct.
“Ministry is drafting a new umbrella act for NGOs and INGOs replacing the current one. Once the bill will pass, the current problem will be settled,” said Narayan Prasad Kafle, Spokesperson of Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. “Our project facilitating committee is facilitating the project approval of NGOs and INGOs through one window.”
Whatever the government says, there are half a dozen different ministries involved to monitor NGOs and INGOs. Although Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare is the sole ministry responsible to advise Social Welfare Council, there are several other ministries, including Home Ministry, Labor and Employment, Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs and Finance involved in the NGOs and INGOs affairs.
Despite a clear law in issuing visa and other facilities through the recommendation of Social Welfare Council, the government agencies are harassing foreigners.
“There is no coordination as well. We have to run several ministries to approve our programs and projects. We have been stressing for one window policy in NGOs and INGOs affairs. Nobody listens to us,” said Lamsal. "Government cannot blame us for its failure.”
“We are ready to support the government move to make NGOs and INGOs accountable and transparent,” said Lamsal. “Even we can support government to strengthen the monitoring capability of SWC.”
The present problems are the lawlessness and lack of coordination among the government agencies involved in NGOs and INGOs regulations. If the persisting lawlessness continues and the corrupt officials both in NGOs and government agencies go unpunished, the situation will be more challenging.
NGOs have become important development actors in Nepal and there is increasing awareness of the role of NGOs. The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has provisions for the mobilization of nongovernmental organizations for the fulfillment of the guiding principles of the state.
“Although we have been working in various sectors giving people a good impression, we have never claimed that we have the capability to work as the government,” said Lamsal.
“I am sorry to see that articles and news are presenting a lot of wrong and misleading information,” said Lamsal. “If the NGOs and INGOs had not acted as they did and started bringing in relief items en masse, where would we be by now?”
As long as the government does not develop a system to make better coordination among various tires of government offices and effective monitoring, confusion will continue in the society. As long as there is confusion, this will give space for disinformation. As NGOs and INGOs have been doing so many good works, they are the victims of one-sided assault. The time has come to see what really went wrong.