New policy aims to bar foreign NGOs from financing religious and political institutionsThe decision was taken to discourage religious conversion which could harm religious harmony, officials say
Prithvi Man Shrestha
The government has introduced a new policy barring International Non-Governmental Organisations from financing religious and political institutions.
The move comes amid complaints that some foreign NGOs were involved in religious conversions. Political leaders and lawmakers have also found to have made foreign trips under the sponsorship of foreign NGOs.
The new Development Cooperation Policy of the government, made public on Thursday, states that foreign NGOs, while mobilising their resources directly or through domestic NGOs, should fund development works other than religious and political institutions and the country’s sensitive areas.
The old Development Cooperation Policy did not have any provision of restricting funding to religious and political institutions.
The reports about conversion to Christianity through international non-government agencies have invited strong criticism from Hindu outfits in Nepal time and again.
Over 80 percent of Nepal’s population is Hindu, according to the 2011 census.
Even before the government introduced the Development Policy Cooperation, efforts were being made to curb the involvement of non-government organisations in religious activities.
Durga Prasad Bhattarai, an information officer at the Social Welfare Council, a government body tasked with monitoring the activities of domestic and foreign NGOs, told the Post that the council has barred domestic and foreign NGOs from getting involved in religious activities, including religious conversion, through the board decision of the council last year.
“The decision was taken to discourage religious conversion, which could harm religious harmony of the country,” he said.
Asked about the provision of the new Development Cooperation Policy, Bhattarai said it just reinforces the action of the council.
A recent annual report of the Office of the Auditor General also blamed the council for poor monitoring despite reports finding that some of the NGOs—both domestic and foreign—were involved in some religious activities.
According to the report, Himalayan Bible Study Academy, an NGO, was found to have run computer and sewing training and business and employment generation training only for the Christian community. Likewise, the Witness Society, another NGO, was found to have spent Rs 264 million for purchasing land and running religious and social activities for Christians in 15 towns and 19 wards of 11 districts, according to the report.
Nepal Christian Bal Sikshya Sangati was found to have spent Rs5.6 million for providing Bible education to children and teachers. The activities targeting certain religious groups could affect the religious harmony and the Social Welfare Council should take this into account while renewing their affiliation with the council, the auditing body stated in its report.
Bhattarai said the council was currently discussing ways to strengthen the system to monitor activities of the NGOs which are allegedly involved in religious activities.
How sensitive the current establishment is against alleged foreign meddling in political and religious affairs is also reflected in statements made by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Election Commission’s rebuttal against the observation report of the European Union Election Observation Mission in March last year.
Asking to correct its report, PM Oli had stated that the EU should not underestimate Nepal’s social harmony, constitutional provisions and achievements.
The Election Commission had also stated that the report violated the memorandum of understanding signed between the poll authority and the observer.
The EU mission had called for denial of proportional representation election quota for the Khas-Aryas while complaining about “non-representation” of Christians in quota.
The Nepali state has also been averse to foreign funding to political activities after the Department for International Development (DFID) in 2011 invited strong criticism for funding various programmes run by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (Nefin).
DFID had decided to discontinue funding to the Nefin after it supported the banda organised for greater rights for the indigenous nationalities in the new constitution during the first Constituent Assembly. Despite measures to control financing political activities, the Development Cooperation Policy has not made it clear who and what constitute political institutions.
“Some sister wings of political parties have been registered as NGOs. The policy should be clear on such issue if the financing is to be stopped to political institutions,” said Gopal Lamsal, former president of NGO Federation of Nepal, a grouping of NGOs operating in Nepal.
Last year, the government’s effort to rein in non-government organisations when it planned to introduce ‘National Integrity Policy’ which had a number of control-centric policies.
One of the provisions was related to foreign NGOs’ involvement in religious issues.
“The international NGOs working in Nepal should not promote religious activities and they should not work against Nepal’s interests, cultural and social harmony,” the draft had stated.
But, amid strong protest from the NGO sector, the government has so far not introduced the policy.Bishnu Lamsal, secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, however, said he did not know the status of the proposed policy as there has been no discussion on the topic since he was transferred to the PMO three months ago.