Excess baggage

An official of the Social Welfare Council (SWC) is reported to have said in Pokhara on June 18 that the amount of foreign aid flowing into the country through the INGOs has seen a three-fold upswing this fiscal year as against last year. According to Dr Ritu Prasad Gadtaula, the SWC member-secretary, 10 billion rupees have already poured in, and by the end of this fiscal year, it is expected to reach 12 billion rupees. This spurt has been attributed mainly to the restoration of peace. During the past ten years, the number of INGOs operating in the country has also gone up from 149 to 185, mainly from the US, Italy and France. Some 27,000 NGOs exist in the country at present. According to him, for the awareness programme relating to the constituent assembly polls alone, 100 million rupees have already flowed in.

The idea behind NGOs was to come up with help in areas where the government could not provide adequate services to the needy. This supplementary approach to development has its merits. That is why NGOs are highly regarded in the developed world. While recognising their value, one needs also to take into account the fact that virtually all NGOs here are financed by foreign money. As, especially since the 1990, there has hardly been any effective regulation on the money the NGOs get from outside and how they use it, there is every possibility that at least some of it may have been used for anti-Nepal purposes. It is the government’s job to see that in the name of foreign aid, the legitimate interests of Nepal and Nepalis are not compromised. When G P Koirala was the Prime Minister in the pre-Gyanendra era, he more than once publicly complained about the unchecked and unrecorded inflow of funds into the NGOs, but he never made any concrete effort at regulation.

The government has now made a change in the registration office for NGOs — from the CDO offices to the SWC. It is also to set up a unit in every district development committee to look after them. These changes may mark an improvement on the existing state of things. But that is far from enough, as the fundamental issue still remains whether the funds that are coming are addressing the real needs of the Ne-palis, or are they also being used for extraneous agendas, which may well conflict with our national interests. It is here that the government needs to pay its utmost attention. For this, it ought to identify the areas in which foreign money is good for the country and areas in which it can spell dangers. Besides, the NGOs and the so-called “private companies” should also be strictly monitored for the transparency of their operations, including the uses of funds, for accountability, as well as for checking the possibility of funnelling the funds received for a legitimate purpose into questionable activities. Safeguards need also to be built to prevent the government from acting against any NGO or “private company” out of vendetta. Regulation should mean neither the unfettered operation of the post-1990 democratic era nor the unacceptably excessive control of the Panchayat era.