War of narrativeMonitoring is important but govt should not view all I/NGOs as competitors to the state
The government has been active since it took office in mid-February to rectify anomalies in a wide range of fields such as transportation and foreign employment recruitment. It is now embarked on a similar plan to bring greater coherence to the functioning of the non-governmental sector. These are appreciable steps. Greater oversight over I/NGOs and deeper cooperation between them and the government can only benefit the country.
However, the way the government has been planning to regulate this sector has some worrisome aspects. Recent developments indicate that the government perceives non-governmental organisations to be a liability to the state. There are a number of draft policies that will bring strong control over civil society organisations. The provisions in the draft National Integrity Policy-2018, which the government seems intent on bringing into operation despite criticism from the public, is a case in point. In addition, there are also other measures that could have negative impacts.
The government plans to bring all non-governmental organisations under substantial monitoring. And indeed, monitoring the finances and operations of these organisations is something that all governments should do. However, some of the measures planned by the Home Ministry under Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa are unwarranted. It seems that the ministry is preparing to order security agencies in all 77 districts to closely follow not just all I/NGOs but also foreign nationals. This is a measure that could easily go beyond just monitoring to the realm of deep surveillance. Close observation at all times by security forces could have a deeply intimidating impact on all kinds of organisations working on the ground. Over a period of time, this could contribute to severely undermining the non-governmental space—a very important space in a democracy.
In addition, the government has decided to cancel the registrations of all non-governmental organisations that are religiously affiliated. Yes, conversions with the lure of cash and kind is highly objectionable. But by prohibiting religiously affiliated organisations to function at all will be a blow to secularism. Yes, the government states, and rightly so, that it is working against forced conversions, but it must also be noted that many, if not most, religious organisations are not involved in forced conversions. Many are engaged in social work—health, education, protection—on which large sections of the population are reliant. By deciding to ban all of these organisations, large numbers of Nepali nationals will be left bereft of essential services. It is clear that over the medium term such blanket provisions against all religious organisations will lead to violations of the freedom of belief.
The government is correct in its ambition to regulate I/NGOs. But it has to be careful not to take hasty steps. It should first consult with a wide range of stakeholders and analyse the potential impact of these steps on the population before taking any major decisions.