Nobody knows

In recent times questions have widely arisen over the desirability of free flow of foreign aid to NGOs in the country without transparency of such funds. This flow has made it difficult to know how much such money comes into the country every year, who are the beneficiaries, what negative effects if any this may be having on society, and whether Nepal’s national interests are not being weakened one way or the other. These are legitimate questions. King Gyanendra recently warned against the harm reportedly being done by such aid. Whatever the motives behind the remark, it is hard to deny the importance of making sure that all foreign money into the country should be accounted for and made transparent.

If foreign aid, whether to government or to NGOs, is supposed to benefit the Nepali people, no aspects of it should be put under shrouds. The people have a right to know. What will be unacceptable, however, is any attempt on the part of those in power to impose undue restrictions on NGOs that do not seem to support their political agenda. But, to check the possible harm from foreign money, transparency should be injected into all sectors, and funds flows need to be properly audited, holding auditors too responsible for their failure to take reasonable care in their work. The lack of transparency and accountability is bound to lead to malpractices, that would make good governance extremely difficult.

This lack of transparency has invited charges even from sections of NGO people that donors pick and choose as their implementing agencies in Nepal on considerations other than merit. To take a current case, some of the office bearers of the National NGO Network Group Against AIDS have accused the donor agencies, referring to their joint pledge of US$14.5 million in aid, of ignoring representative NGOs in the anti-AIDS fight. If things had been transparent, DFID and the other donors involved would not perhaps be labouring now to defend their decisions. The absence of a transparent process leaves room for doubt about the donors’ motives. It is difficult to understand, for example, why most projects are not awarded on the basis of competitive bidding. Besides NGOs, strangely enough, some ‘private companies’ are landing lucrative but unpublished contracts which properly fall in the domain of NGOs, and this calls for investigation into its implications. When the country has been accepting foreign aid in virtually every sphere, ranging from defence to garbage disposal, there is no strength in arguing against foreign aid to NGOs, but all transactions must be legitimate and transparent.