Nepali Times
NGOs next


After crackdowns against politicians, journalists, human rights activists and other democratic institutions the regime now has non-governmental organizations in the crosshairs.

In a move that for many harks back to the bad old Panchayat days, the Social Welfare Council has been revamped and given powers through royal ordinance to issue directives and supervise NGO activities. Earlier it was only directed to 'extend support' to NGOs. Next up is a code of conduct being prepared by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.

Although the SWC is an autonomous body, Minister Durga Shrestha has already hinted at what is to come by sacking member secretary Prabha Basnet and all senior members on 29 July, replacing them with a handpicked team.

Basnet, a 33-year veteran civil servant, told us her sacking came as a complete surprise. "I was really shocked, and I don't know why the ordinance is being introduced-ask the minister," she said.

One government source told us the minister had been miffed at SWC members who had constantly disagreed with her efforts at extending controls and with her working style.

The new staffing and rules have further harmed the government's deteriorating relationship with national and international civil society which feel the government is trying to control their activities. Although the government has not yet officially informed INGO reps in Kathmandu about the changes, they have been informally told the amendments in the SWC act will not affect their work.

International donors and the UN have not commented officially, but have voiced private misgivings. Nepali NGOs fear they will suffer political harassment through the SWC and want the INGOs to be more vocal. "If the INGOs feel that they are our real partners it's time they spoke out," says Gauri Pradhan of Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN).

CARE Nepal's Balaram Thapa says the process for any big changes in the SWC should have been consultative and participatory.

"Instead there is much confusion and frustration among the development community," he told us.

Shibesh Regmi, chief of Action Aid Nepal, says the existing act already had strong legal provisions to take action against any NGO not complying with government agreements. He adds: "There really was no need to introduce any new codes of conduct."

New SWC member secretary Sharad Sharma told RSS the changes would enable the government to monitor and regulate NGO activities, especially outside the Valley. But Arjun Karki of the NGO Federation of Nepal says the new rules will demoralise development workers. "On one hand, we have to work under immense pressure from Maoists and now you have the government creating more problems," he adds.

Recently, the Maoists announced a one-year moratorium on NGOs in Tehrathum district, and there are reports of similar restrictions elsehwhere.

CWIN's Gauri Pradhan says this is a witch-hunt, and an attempt by the government to sideline NGOs that are critical of the government.

The policy change has apparently infuriated even government officials, who argue it will only jeopardise the work of INGOs, who bring in Rs 7 billion annually to Nepal. The estimated 30,000 non-government groups countrywide are planning protests to pressure the government to leave them alone.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)