Editorial

Bridge the gap

Ensuring coordination between government and civil society needs clear and facile guidelines

Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali met members of the diplomatic community on Tuesday. In the meeting, he urged them to follow the diplomatic code of conduct as laid out by the government. In addition, he also sought to placate fears about the government’s attitude towards civil society groups. Gyawali said that the government had no intention to curb the rights of civil society groups but fully recognised their importance for the country. According to the Foreign Minister, all that the government was seeking was to ensure coordination between civil society groups and the government so that they contributed to the country priorities as laid out by the government. In addition, he stated, recent regulations on I/NGOs were part of the government’s overarching agenda to ensure transparency, integrity and accountability.

The Foreign Minister’s briefing was appreciable. It highlights that the government is indeed aware about all the recent concern that has arisen about some of its decisions that appear to constrain democratic space. However, in order for the government to truly address growing concerns that it is not acting in an arbitrary or authoritarian manner to stifle the democratic space, it has to satisfy two broad criteria.

First, the government has to ensure that the regulations it brings are not so onerous and intensive as to constitute surveillance and control over civil society bodies. The proposed National Integrity Policy has some extremely severe provisions that, if implemented, would make it very difficult for civil society groups to function. In addition, the Home Minister has made some very worrying comments about how the police and administration in all districts will be instructed to keep close tabs on non-Nepalis living and working across the country. Such policies and statements make it seem that the government has taken an automatically hostile position towards I/NGOs. This needs to stop.

Second, the government needs to ensure that whatever guidelines it lays down are clear and straightforward. Any civil society group or I/NGO that follows the regulations should not face any difficulties in operating. Over recent months, many groups have found it difficult to understand what the government really wants of them. Many organisations have become lost in the bureaucratic maze of the Nepali government, without any clear idea of whether the government is against them or whether they are facing problems only due to bureaucratic inertia. Often, it seems as though organisations fall victim to the whims of bureaucrats and politicians. If the government wants to ensure transparency and integrity of civil society groups, it needs to ensure that it is itself transparent and possesses integrity. None of the government’s actions so far demonstrates that it is heading in such a direction.  
Published: 2018-07-12 08:28:22