The role of NGOs and INGOs in Nepal
-Dr. Meena Acharya
In the present scenario of uneven human development, unequal access to positions of power and serious deprivation among the various sections of the population, it is natural that demands for more equal access to resources, affirmative action, education in local language, support for cultural development, real decentralization of decision making powers to local level units of governance and changes in the ideology and structure of the state are being raised all round. Some of them have raised issues of rights to self-determination. Women have raised their own voices for equality.
Nepal faces a colossal task of consolidating the Nepalese national identity, while at the same time redressing the genuine grievances of women, various ethnic and caste groups and geographically disadvantaged areas. The dominant Indo-Aryan group must show special tolerance and skill to handle such grievances. The greatest challenge today is to make the dominant culture understand that it has to accommodate the dissenting voices within the nation. On the other hand, various ethnic groups have to understand that we survive or die together, there is no way history can be reversed without bloodshed, which does no good for the people in general. The civil society including the NGOs can and must play a constructive role in bringing about necessary changes in the attitudes of the dominat and non-dominant groups for a harmonious development towards a more equitable social, economic and political structure in the country.
The major political parties in Nepal have proved grossly inefficient and incapable of dealing with the burning issues facing the country. They have tended to use the ethnic issues for their own political purposes. Their sole concentration in the last ten years has been on power seeking. Unfortunately, so far none of the civil society institutions, the private sector media, the trade unions and professional organizations or NGOs have been able to keep themselves free from this constant power-seeking behavior.
Pattern of NGO Interventions and their problems: So far, most NGOs in Nepal have concentrated their attention to development work, primarily because this is where the funding is available and that is what attracts people easily. They operate through multi-dimensional programs, not limiting themselves to one or other sectors at the village level. This is partly due to their philosophy of integrated approach and /or funding possibilities, as many INGOs and donors assist most of them. NGOs have taken the integrated approach for awareness raising and service delivery. They mostly work through groups. Activities carried out by NGOs have been concentrated around creating awareness, playing a catalytic role in accessing the existing service, human resource development and in some cases providing services. Within these broad categories, more specific activities include community development, income generation, health, agriculture, informal education, drinking water, population and environment. Most of the NGOs have added income generation/saving credit components to their programs to attract participation. However, the focus of the program differs from NGO to NGO depending upon the availability of funds and donors’ priority. Some of the NGOs, NIRDHAN, for example, are organized primarily as banking for the poor along the Bangladesh Grameen Bank Model.
A few NGOs are focusing on advocacy for human rights, women’s rights and child rights. Of particular interest is the recent NGO assistance to Kamaiyas for their collective action against bonded labor conditions in the Far-West, their subsequent liberation and the NGO advocacy for low caste rights of job-choice in another eastern district.
Many of the women’s NGOs have collaborated on rights advocacy issues in recent years. They have been quite successful in advocacy roles bringing women'’ problems to the normal agenda, although their developmental roles have often been criticised. The focus of their attention has been equal inheritence rights for daughters in the parental household and against public and domestic violence against women. One visible outcome of this advocacy is the bill introduced in the parliament for the amendment of clauses on property rights and against violence. The Bill, although not perfect, will make a wife’s rights in her husband’s property a little more secure and punishment on rape more severe. Women have also been able to get some reservation in the Constitution and in the Acts on Local Governance.
International Non-government Organizations-INGOs: A large number of INGOs operate in Nepal, some of them such as UMN and Helvetas have been doing so for more than four decades. A substantial amount of resources flow through them. For example, in 1998, US$17.4 million was spend in Nepal by INGOs. The largest donors INGOs in 1998 were Foster Parents, 32%; UMN 16%; International Nepal Fellowship; Action Aid and Lutheran World Federation.
Different INGOs have varying operational modalities-some of them operate their own programs while others have been funding government programs as well as NGOs. From the last Fiscal Year, INGOs have been required to get their programs and those of their collaborating NGOs approved by Social Welfare Council-SWC.
INGO strategies of local intervention are similar to those of NGOs discussed above. But INGOs also function as donors to NGOs. Awareness raising group formation and credit are common to almost all programs. Priority of funding and input components depend upon each INGOs objectives and leadership vision. Nevertheless, sector-focus of their activities has been area development and health. In recent years, particularly since 1995, many INGOs have been paying specific attention to the more disadvantaged areas and groups, including women (see Bhattchan,2000).
To summarize, although many NGOs and INGOs are performing some useful developmental work, their intentions, transparency, accountability, commitment, and capability of independent action---all have been questioned at various levels. The issue of intention, ownership, transparency, and accountability are serious ones.
The most serious problem concerning INGO operations in Nepal, as in the case of NGOs, is their accountability. Donors often create their own organization to conduct non-government level development activities in Nepal. Further, donors have tended to fund NGOs established by close relatives of political and bureaucratic authorities for political purposes rather than looking at the strength of their programs. INGOs also have large bureaucracies and often employ expatriates paying them exorbitant salaries. By such activities and policies, they are undermining the institutional and professional development in Nepal in the name of providing assistance to the people of Nepal. Their channel of funding and financing mechanisms are not transparent. Some of them have been channeling back resources to their home countries, even directly as head office overheads. Some of them refuse to provide information on their annual expenses even. Until recently, there was no centralized unit in the country, which kept track of INGOs and their activities. The SWC has taken up this task recently but it needs to strengthen its infrastructure to perform it effectively. It also needs to keep politics out of the process of funding NGOs.