NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN) emerged as an umbrella organisation of NGOs in the aftermath of democratic political change and establishment of multiparty parliamentary system in 1990. Since its establishment in 1991, the NFN has been fighting for the promotion of human rights, social justice and pro-poor development. Today, it has evolved as a leading civil society organisation in Nepal with over 4500 NGOs affiliated to it from across the country. Areas of intervention requiring immediate consideration and remedial action in human rights, social justice, democratic governance and pro-poor development are immense. This is more challenging due to the current transitional political situation. Broadly, NFN has developed a four-pillar strategy, realising the need for collaborative work and intervention. The four pillars are: 1. capacity-building and NGO governance reform, 2. women empowerment and inclusion, 3. youth mobilisation, and 4. broad-based civil society networking.
NGO Federation of Nepal is member of AGNA. Affinity groups are groupings of CIVICUS members that exist to take forward CIVICUS’ mission and values. The Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) brings together national associations from around the world. National associations are those organisations, which provide and give a collective voice to civil society in their countries, serve as interlocutors between civil society and other sectors and struggle for the creation of an enabling environment for civil society at the national level.
NGO Federation of Nepal is also a member of the International Forum of NGO Platforms (IFP). The IFP brings together over 50 national NGO platforms from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Oceania and seven regional coalitions, which together account for more than 10,000 organisations. It was founded at an international conference in Paris in 2008, with the conviction of broadening the space to participate in global debates to defend our vision of a supportive world where human rights are respected, the most vulnerable populations have a voice and inequalities and injustice are fought. This prompted the decision by the national platforms from the five continents to start a cooperative work and joint advocacy.
State/civil society relations:
How does the state view and relate to civil society in your country?
The perception and view of the state, government agencies and government employees is still observed to be not so positive in Nepal. They seem to hesitate to accept and acknowledge the role and participation of civil society, which is often represented by non- governmental organisations/ civil society organisations (NGOs/CSOs) in nation building, governance, service delivery and in their roles as civil society watchdogs. Nevertheless, they are obliged to acknowledge and give recognition to civil society.
The role of civil society in the democratic movement of 2006 has been well-recognised in Nepal, for that role was strong, decisive and able to garner public support when political parties were not able to do so. The effective role of the NGO Federation of Nepal has been able to create a goodwill and impression among the political parties as well as the general public. Regrettably, there have been attempts lately to disregard and forget the role of civil society by the political parties who have failed to deliver to the nation according to the mandate and aspirations of the people, as expressed in the political movement of 2006.
Have there been any significant changes in relations between civil society and the government in your country in the last year?
Differences among civil society have recently been observed. As a result, confusion in identifying actual civil society has arisen mainly due to issues such as political transition, instability and all the debates and discussions that took place within the process of rebuilding and restructuring the state system and mechanism. In spite of this however, it must be agreed upon that civil society in Nepal is very active and vibrant.
Government agencies and departments participate in various mechanisms and committees where civil society participation is relevant. Presently, the NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN) represents civil society in over 16 national level forums and committees. Similarly, district chapters of NFN have been representing in about 23 district level government mechanisms.
What conditions do you feel need to be in place to allow for a good relationship between the state and civil society at a national level?
The role of civil society should be recognised clearly and defined in the constitution of Nepal. The attitude of political parties and government employees should be positive towards NGOs and civil society. Most importantly, a new NGO act should be promulgated in response to the changing context of global society respecting the basic norms and values of democracy, human rights, and social equity.
The legal and regulatory environment:
Are there any particular challenges with the legal and regulatory environment for civil society? (e.g. are the laws outdated / inappropriate / inadequate / over-complex / partial / not properly applied / adequate)?
The rights to association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are some provisions made in the Interim Constitution as fundamental rights. Unfortunately however, Nepalese NGOs are still guided by the same outdated Association Registration Act of 1977, which has been irrelevant at the present context. The law was enforced in an undemocratic political regime mainly to regulate and control the people’s organisations. Given that Nepal has undergone a lot of changes towards democracy and human rights, the space and role of civil society and civil society organisations has obviously increased in Nepal. While NGOs/CSOs increasingly continue to contribute to the development of Nepal, Nepalese NGOs/CSOs urgently need a new act that can facilitate the NGOs/CSOs in the new national and global context. So, the NGO Federation of Nepal has been demanding, since long before, for a new Social Development Act by replacing existing one, based on the principles of democracy, human rights and autonomy of NGOs.
The Social Welfare Council (SWC) is the government agency set up to oversee the NGOs and INGOs in Nepal, but there is no provision of representations from NGOs and INGOs within its structure. SWC is not able to regulate and as well facilitate to the NGOs. Similarly, existing policies and laws are not well-defined regarding the registration, administration and affiliation processes for the networks and alliances of community and social organisations.
What recent trends do you feel have enabled or restricted the efficiency of civil society?
Some funding organisations and tax related issues that are often discouraging to NGOs in many cases. NGOs are required to get registered for value added tax (VAT) to be qualified for bidding and proposal. Likewise, unnecessary conditions are also being imposed by local governments, local administration and the Social Welfare Council for the purpose of registration/affiliation and renewal, and their operational bottlenecks are harassing to the NGOs. The conditions imposed by local authorities vary from district to district. High-level government official has circulated a kind of notice to the local level government units, which is entirely discouraging to the civil society.
Funding environment for CSOs:
What is the reality of funding in your country? (Access to funding/ patterns of donor support/ restrictions on funding etc.)
The resources available to NGOs in Nepal are very limited. The main sources of funding are multilateral and bilateral agencies, INGOs, and charities. The accessibility and information to aid varies according to personal, organisational relationships and access and ability to use information technology and media. Because of insufficiency of capacity with local NGOs, they have no access to funding opportunities.
However, some problems still exist. The practice that INGOs, individually or jointly with national NGOs, taking part in the call for proposals at the national level, has created a more competitive environment for NGOs in accessing foreign aid. There are cases in which international organisations such as INGOs and UN Agencies are bidding for the earmarked fund for Nepal. Likewise, the practice of many INGOs directly implementing their programmes has disregarded the CSOs and has made it more challenging for them to access and receive aid. Another issue is that the INGOs do not select their partner NGOs in a transparent manner.
Where is money going and for what purposes?
The funds available with NGOs are being used in development works, public service delivery, public advocacy activities and empowerment of the people. The money spent in development and public service delivery is complementing to the works of the government.