NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN) held an interactive discussion meeting among key CSOs' leaders representing 9 different organizations and social development ministers of the provinces in Kathmandu on 14 March 2018. The meeting was convened at NFN's office premises and attended by 21 people (male – 18, female – 3) altogether including 2 incumbent ministers holding the social development portfolio in Karnali province and province no. 07.
Given the context that all three tiers of governments have initiated their businesses of formulating laws, enacting different sorts of functional structures, and developing fiscal plans and programs, and budget with a vision to achieving sustained development and prosperity, CSOs realized a need to begin with such kind of dialogue with the favourable line ministers of the provinces. Therefore, the intent of this small group meeting was to have an informal and free-frank conversation between civil society activists and ministers on the space and freedom of CSOs in the changed setting of political developments; as well as strengthening the role of CSOs in the campaign of national development, prosperity and democratization of the country.
The meeting commenced with a formal kind of felicitation and congratulating to the ministers. NFN Chair Mr. Gopal Lamsal outlined his welcome notes and objectives of the gathering shortly. Then, the leaders of thematic federations namely Mr. Bhakta Bishwakarma – Senior Vice President of Dalit NGO Federation (DNF), Ms. Bharati Pathak – Secretary General of Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FEECOFUN), Mr. Bidur Subedi – Vice President of Human Rights Alliance, Mr. Kedar Khadka from GoGo Foundation, Mr. Tanka Aryal – an independent professional, among others spoke on the set agenda for the meeting. Having scrupulously listened to the CSOs' leaders, the duo ministers put forth their remarks on the topic for the day – responding to the concerns, queries, comments and suggestions provided on behalf of the CSOs in the country.
The excerpts of the discussion are enlisted as hereunder:
- Participants suggested that the discourse of prosperity should embrace and enshrine the essence of social justice, inclusiveness, human rights, political stability, and respect for diversity. They cautioned that prosperity and development as such lacking these features and needs of Nepalese society would lead to the failure of federalism. Their argument was that the policies, laws, programs, and budgets of all governments must entail the values of justice and rights of citizens.
- Since the initial priority of the governments for next couple of years is to formulate and enact governing laws and policies; CSOs urged them to endorse such policies friendly to them. They demanded for the laws and policies within the jurisprudence of each government to be CSOs-friendly – interpreting that such laws and policies should facilitate CSOs to collaborate and coordinate with the governments unfettered, instead of encroaching upon their autonomous space and freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution of Nepal.
- Participants suggested that there should be an independent
Social Development Council at federal level – be it within the Prime Minister's Office or elsewhere. Similarly, they interpreted that the separate provincial boards under the Ministry of Social Development would be able to effectively coordinate, collaborate and facilitate CSOs in the development efforts for the provinces. And for the local levels, CSOs wanted to have a formal kind of coordination mechanism alone. The registration and renewal of the CSOs were discussed to be provisioned at federal and provincial level depending upon the nature, coverage, size and membership status of CSOs and their networks.
- Participants opined that they were still fearing of the governments to be bureaucratic guided by the motive of controlling CSOs. They instead wanted the governments to give space to CSOs so that they would by virtue of their inherent nature not just act as the implementing partners of the governments but also play crucial and creative roles as critiques and supporter of the governments.
- Participants wished that the provinces would compete with each other in terms of giving autonomous operational space to CSOs as the fundamental pre-requisite to democratic governance. They wished the Karnali province and province no. 07 would set them as model and show others by actions that how effective partnerships between CSOs and governments could be fortified and accelerated.
- They suggested that the governments would digitalize the processes, mechanisms and actions of delivery of goods and services to people gradually if not immediately. The policies and practices of multiple registrations and reporting for CSOs were suggested to be outlawed and strictly withdrawn in practices.
Meanwhile, the present members of CSOs had a close group meeting on the recent decision of the Cabinet to regulate CSOs by the Prime Minister's Office. They have tentatively agreed on the structure, functioning, and mechanism of the Social Development Council that they believe should be an independent, autonomous, semi-judiciary, apolitical, professional and powerful constitutional body governing CSOs in the changed context.
Both the ministers – Mr. Dala Rawal, Karnali Province, and Mr. Dirgha Sodari – Province No. 07, outlined their remarks recognizing the roles furnished by CSOs in the processes of socio-economic transformation and political reformations in the past. Their unanimous voice was that Nepal has completed a course of political change and she has now no alternatives out apart from moving on the path to prosperity and sustainable development. The ministers further assured that they would recognize the independent space of CSOs in their respective provinces by allowing them to operate unrestricted legally and in practices. Since there are piles of challenges ahead on the road to prosperity, they opined that all groups of actors including civil society sector need to come in a common platform so that the sustained development and viable prosperity of the country could be harnessed.
At the end, Mr. Chair of the meeting put forth his concluding remarks, and reminded of the understanding to CSOs that they would meet up quite often now and then and develop their common position regarding modality of Social Development Council and its boards in the provinces. The next meeting among CSOs has been called upon for 18 March 2018, Sunday.