Shyam Prasad Mainali
Civil society in Nepal has played a significant role in the political and economic transformation in the last three decades. Under a highly democratic federal system, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) possess considerable potential in further developing the nation. CSOs emerged in the first half of the 20th century in an effective and modern form. They played vital role in the sectors of social welfare, community development and the institutionalisation of democracy after the 1990 political change. Gradually, it shifted from community development and livelihoods to social movement and right-based approach. The term ‘CSOs’ and NGOs are often used interchangeably but the former is an essential part of democracy and includes the contribution of professional associations, social movements, academics, activist to the process of strengthening democracy. The contribution of CSOs is well highlighted in the People’s Movement of 2006.
CSOs supplement government functions and contribute to social welfare, community development, sustainability of the environment, health and sanitation, gender equality, protection of the human rights and more. Effective contribution has been extended to the sector of public service delivery especially benefitting to the remote and marginalised communities across the country. CSOs contributed to the sector of providing technical skills and expertise and have also promoted conducive environment for maintaining social accountability. CSOs work with stakeholders such as the three tiers of government, political parties, mass media, academics, and foreign states to create a favourable environment for the betterment of the country.
However, political instability and rampant corruption have hindered democratic transition. Collaboration between the government and CSOs is desirable to remedy this unfortunate situation. Recently, CSOs have developed their governance, capacity, sustainability and even become self-reliant and less dependent on donor support and therefore have become significant vehicles for social change and service delivery. In 2006, during a period of low government trust, civil society actors were integral in championing democratic values and representing the marginalised. CSOs have also been important in bringing international ideas within the country and addressing them according to local context and needs.
Various issues affect the ability of CSOs to contribute to the development of a prosperous Nepal. CSOs are facing considerable confusion in working with local governments that share a common agenda. Excessive government control over civil society operations has also limited CSOs’ effectiveness. Continuous contribution in the process of nation building made by CSOs lacks sufficient government recognition and support from the public. Government’s perception on channelised funding through donors for shaping the CSO environment has been quite negative. Similarly, the CSOs have failed to receive desired level of support from the political sphere.
The empowerment of marginalised groups has not been satisfactory and needs further development. Strong commitment between the government and CSOs for the purpose of maintaining mutual accountability is necessitated. All tiers of government have created hurdles for CSOs in promoting democracy, human rights, and good governance. All forces of the market and political economy will continue to come into conflict. CSOs have been confused to work out on service delivery and other watchdog roles. Excessive politicisation of CSOs has resulted negatively in the process of collaboration and coordination.
Such perceptions of the government and public have weakened CSOs’ effectiveness and access to resources. The government is attracted to donor agencies and INGOs instead of recognising and encouraging CSOs within the country. The inability of CSOs to hold themselves accountable is another factor that the government has been intervening in. Donors are attracted to mobilise CSOs directly through withdrawal of support for governance and moved ahead to shrink the space of civil society. Concrete solutions are not drawn to create a more friendly atmosphere in which both parties work together effectively.
Such a fruitful vision among political leaders and civil society is lacking. Increased roles of local government simultaneously increased the demand for CSOs’ knowledge, specialists, and expertise to help the design and deliver qualitative public. Due to the bureaucratic hurdles and unnecessary procedural complications, access to resources has been hampered and service delivery rendered ineffective. However, CSOs have easy and comfortable access to local governments. Mainstreaming and raising awareness of women and youth through civic education and skill development is essential. CSOs could be effective in helping these groups. Likewise, the help of CSO activists and specialists could be effective in building the capacity of elected representatives, particularly to female politicians.
The government and CSOs are both losing their credibility. Governments are not prepared to support donor-driven partnership which is essential for the work of the CSOs. This difficulty could be solved through signing compact between the two as seen around the globe. A compact itself is an agreement which provides basis to work collectively with better understanding and trust. Both sides come to accept it by agreeing on vision, principles, roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities. Local ownership and acceptance of self-regulation and accountability tools should be improved. Detailed homework in this regard furnishes the appropriate environment to run effectively. Rolling out new techniques to create an enabling environment and developing self-reliance through a joint civil society, government and donors funding group should be developed to improve the effectiveness.
Coordination, collaboration, trust, and confidence between all stakeholders should be developed. Joint campaigns and collective approaches to move in every issue of local governments and CSOs should be effectively managed. Orientation to CSOs to advocate on the inclusion policy and programmes needs to be acceptable to all concerned. For this purpose, economic status of the targeted groups should be in priority instead of cosmetic slogan for popularity. To make effective accountability and get ownership of the stakeholders at the grassroots level, all CSOs’ activities need to be transparent so that they increase the adoption rates by the people at large.
(Mainali is former secretary of Nepal Government.)