NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN) called upon a meeting amongst CSOs' network organizations on 29 December, 2017 at its office premises at Buddhanagar, Kathmandu. The meeting was accomplished as attended by a congregation of sectoral federations, alliances, and campaigns such as FNJ, SMC Federation, AFFON, NFYN, CAHURAST, NAVIN, NFIWUAN, FECOFUN, Human Rights Alliance, ACORAB, COCAP, DiMaNN, NAF, CCN, SSN, and among others, including the executive members of NFN. Altogether 29 participants (males – 22, and female – 7) were present in the meeting.
Given the context that the country has stepped into a new phase of political development –aspiring to sustained peace, stability and economic progression, alongside the happening of local, provincial and federal level elections; the purpose of the meeting was to facilitate and foster dialogue among the federated bodies of CSOs, further enabling them to discuss and agree on what could be the roles of CSOs, what should be their priority areas, how could the roles and space of CSOs be fortified, and what are the opportunities and challenges likely to be for them, particularly in the changed socio-political milieus.
As outlined prior, the meeting in its entirety was conducted in an informal way. The idea was to facilitate an open discussion on the issues of CSOs' concerns and allow individual participants to put forth their views on the agendas set for the meeting. In the same vein, NFN Chair Mr. Gopal Lamsal kicked off the meeting by briefly highlighting on the context and the need that the meeting had to be summoned.
Then the individual participants were asked to offer their reflections, insights, and opinions on how the roles of CSOs could be strengthened, how the collaborations among CSOs and their networks could be reinforced, and what should be the common position of CSOs to contribute to the aspiration of political stability, economic growth and employment promotion in the country in the changed context of state restructuring. At the end, Mr. Chair, who also chaired the meeting, outlined his remarks by acknowledging the participants who volunteered to put forth their viewpoints; and stating that the sum of ideas would be taken into consideration in the future courses of action – as part of his concluding speech.Mr. Dillu Prasad Ghimire, NFN Central Executive Committee Member, was a moderator for the entire session.
3.0 Key Issues Discussed
Within the broader realm of agendas mentioned in the sections above, the key issues discussed in the meeting included:
- Legal and operational challenges for CSOs
- Self-regulation and internal governance of CSOs
- Roles of CSOs for stability, prosperity and development
Since the participants represented different networks of CSOs and hence the diverse sectoral themes; their opinions as obvious were divergent. However each of them has raised pertinent concerns in relation to the issues stated above. The list is exhaustive, yet some major points of discussion were as presented hereunder:
- Some argued that CSOs by virtue of their nature are the development actors; and therefore it's easier for them to operate being registered at the local levels. Contrarily, some others opined that there should be one-door policy or integrated law governing the registration, renewal, affiliation, approval processes of the CSOs and their projects and programs – that possibly might be the federal law.
- It was discussed that the roles and functioning of CSOs and state should not overlap. The CSOs, therefore, really need to figure out what should be their roles in the changed context.
- Majority of participants suggested that the structures, policies and functioning of CSOs should be reformed in line with the spirit of federalization and inclusive restructuring of the state.
- They put the idea that the laws governing and regulating individual CSOs and their networks (federations) should be distinct and different. Accordingly, their roles as principally envisaged should be distinctive.
- In the changed context, CSOs should get engaged in intervening in the policy-making processes at all layers of the state, some argued.
- Majority of them opined that CSOs should conduct their activities and interventions in close coordination and collaborations with the local government bodies.
- Some pointed out that there is an urgent need to foster collaborations and functional relationships even among CSOs and federations working on different themes and issues.
- They also envisioned a confederation of federations – might be termed a Civil Society Council, as a loose structure that would facilitate dialogue, discussion and collaborations among sectoral federations and act towards collective benefits of CSOs in one hand, and integrate development efforts of all on the other. This would replace the existence of Social Welfare Council if legalized.
- A unanimous understanding was that CSOs must not get registered into VAT system.
- Some suggested bringing a draft proposal on how CSOs should move ahead, what should be their roles, and how should be they governed, etc. by a task force formed out of CSOs federations so that it could be discussed further for producing a refined document as the basis of advocacy. This would also serve as the common operational guideline for CSOs in the upcoming days.
- Some regretted that Nepalese civil society had been divided across ethnic and ideological fault-lines. Instead of functioning as a legitimate civil society, they were acting towards fulfilling the interests of the donors, bureaucrats, and political parties etc. hence leaving the citizens far aside. So, they raised a question that Nepalese civil society first needs to be a genuine civil society.
- Some argued that CSOs should advocate for their roles and space enabled in accordance with the spirit of the Article 17 of the Constitution. They should look up to the assurance of freedom of association and speech in practice while talking about their registration, renewal, affiliation and approval.
- Some suggested to intervene on the NGO Management Act (Sample) and other laws being drafted for local level on the right time and dismantle their chances of being hegemonic to CSOs in the future days. They argued that the NGO Management Act should be annulled and its contents should be incorporated in the federal law governing CSOs. However, CSOs should inform and coordinate with local government bodies and they might need to have an agreement with the local governments for implementing long-term programs.
- A voice was heard somewhere from the floor that the contribution based social security system should not be applicable to CSOs as they are the voluntary organizations.
- They raised a point that CSOs should advocate for effective management of foreign aid in the country. Foreign aid being a prominent issue related to CSOs must be managed well – so that the public image of them would be improved.
- The Government of Nepal has endorsed a model operating guideline for FM radios which intends to regulate the content of community radios. It seems that the local governments are being promoted to disseminate public information through their own radios – which is against the existence of community radios in democratic regime and therefore must be opposed.
- It was discussed to have a model law governing CSOs which could be presented to the government for policy advocacy purpose. Similarly, some suggested that CSOs should have a common governance and self-regulation guideline in place.
- Some asserted that CSOs have been persistently undergoing through bureaucratic hurdles instigated by the lack of coordination among the Ministries of the Government of Nepal. Therefore, they pointed out towards a need to act for and have constructive dialogue with the bureaucracy for promoting inter-ministerial coordination and collaborations in relation to regulating CSOs.
- Some being self-critical to CSOs argued that we need to have a commitment to the governance policies and laws of the Government, albeit we are per se independent and autonomous. However such policies and acts should be formulated and endorsed in line with the international standards – which we have to advocate for.
- Some reiterated, even if the SWC continues to exist – it should serve as a facilitating body for CSOs and should have its offices operating at all layers of the state. Why some others argued that they did not need the SWC at all in the changed context.
- Being in the phase of policy and administrative transition, it was discussed that CSOs should not split wide apart in terms of putting views regarding their legal and operational environment, roles, and governance issues. They should narrow down the differences and have a common and flexible kind of understanding on how they should move ahead in the changed context.
This way, the discussion provided an ample opportunity to have diverse and differential viewpoints which needed to be summed up, and integrated in the form of common standpoint of CSOs regarding their legal status, operational environment, internal governance and self-regulation and the roles in the changed context.
4.0 Key Messages, Outcomes and Action Points
- The meeting has brought together the CSOs networks in a common forum. It has impinged on them to realize and internalize the need to have similar kind of meetings in the future which would enable them to discuss on issues of their concerns on regular basis.
- The participants have agreed to have a common position paper and roadmap of CSOs in the changed context. It was agreed to include the discussion points of today in the position paper and roadmap and share the draft versions with this group at the earliest.
- Further, it has been agreed that once CSOs have their common position paper and roadmap – the joint advocacy plan would be endorsed and acted upon towards creating an enabling environment for CSOs and fortifying their roles as development partners in the changed socio-economic and political settings.
Overall, the meeting was a fruitful platform to discuss on and figure out issues affecting CSOs working on diverse sectors. Being a first of its kind at least in the last one year, the meeting has decided to have similar kinds of coalition meetings among CSOs' network organizations on regular basis in the upcoming days. This would serve as a common platform of CSOs beyond NFN's membership and raise issues from within for future courses of advocacy actions.
In addition, the platform has agreed to have joint position paper and roadmap specifying the roles and priorities of CSOs as well as envisioning opportunities and challenges for strengthening space for them in the changed context. Thus, the discussion as outlined prior, has led to the idea that the position paper and roadmap will guide their future courses of actions towards contributing to the development and prosperity of the country through their enhanced governance and legitimate roles and spaces, further strengthening democratic norms and values in the country.