The United States ambassador to Nepal, Alaina B Teplitz in an op-ed published in Annapurna Post daily on Monday has strongly criticised a new draft law making it difficult for civil society organisations to register and operate in Nepal.
The draft Social Welfare and Development Act requires civil society organisations (CSOs) to get multiple approvals from different agencies despite constitutional provisions for streamlined registration and operation.
‘The new Social Welfare and Development Act currently being drafted … appears to run counter to the constitution’s call for a single-door system requiring CSOs to obtain multiple approvals from different agencies in order to operate,’ Teplitz writes.
‘The draft Act also restricts CSO access to foreign funding by requiring CSOs to obtain permission from the Social Welfare Council to implement projects using foreign aid and support.’
The US government through its agencies and contractors support NGOs in health, education and gender as well as provide grants to civil society groups working on human rights and democracy.
Teplitz said the US engaged with CSOs in Nepal so they had the tools and skills to advocate on behalf of the people they serve.
She warned that the restrictions on foreign funding in the draft ‘besides being an unnecessary burden on these institutions … would be a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’.
‘While civil society, including our friends in the media, can, at times, be difficult or a challenge to the government, that is precisely why our democracy needs them, and why we work with other democratic governments to enhance civil society,” she adds.
Civil society organisations include NGOs, the media, community-based groups, think tanks, academia and professional institutions. Teplitz writes: ‘It is imperative that during the democratic transition civic space remain open to support an active civil society.”