Friday, November 27, 2020

"Social Organizations Bill aims to control NGOs, needs to be modified"


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In resource-constrained country like Nepal, where the state actors face challenges in addressing socio-economic problems faced by the national population, the role of civil society organizations becomes crucial in promoting the grassroots-level participation for sensitizing the democratic process.

However, the presence of stringent laws to regulate and monitor or dictate the business of non-government sectors could create hurdles in responding the growing needs of the population at marginalized sections or grassroots level.

In this light, legal professionals, academicians, researchers and other stakeholders have raised their serious concerns over the draft of Social Organizations Act recently submitted by Nepal Law Commission to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. The speakers said that the government was planning to regulate, dictate and control the avenues of the non-government organizations (NGOs) under restrictive laws.

“This is a very important bill which needs to be discussed among the civil society stakeholders, including NGOs and other organizations, be it ‘Aama Samuh’ [mother’s group] or similar groups engaged with agriculture sector, working at the grassroots. The basic problem with the bill is that it seeks to focus on the control and supervision than on how to promote the civic space for creative and constructive use,” said Dr Bipin Adhikari, Dean, Kathmandu University School of Law, Dhulikhel.

He further said that the bill is home to very strange provisions. “There are certain provisions which empower the state to prosecute the civil society groups under espionage laws and try the NGOs for criminal offences, including breach of peace. It's not pragmatic to incorporate criminal liabilities in this bill as we have a fair corpus of laws to deal with criminal offences or the situations influencing the national security,” argued Dr Adhikari while addressing the interaction program organized by Kathmandu University School of Law, Dhulikhel on Tuesday.

“We must strike optimum balance when deciding what and how to regulate. The laws should create conducive atmosphere, not restrictive ones, for the government and NGOs to operate in close cooperation in a bid to reap better outcomes,” added he.

The bill contains provisions to regulate corruption as well. “Corruption is an issue for the state as it involves misuse or abuse of public power. NGOs may be engaged in mismanagement of resources and they could be prosecuted for the same but not necessarily in abuse of state’s power. So, it's unjust to put NGOs and government sectors on the same footing and charge them for corruption. Importantly, we have laws to deal with mismanagement of property or resources,” he added.

Similarly, anti-corruption crusader Kedar Khadka said, “This bill is in want of modifications. There are ample provisions which are unreasonable and restrictive in nature. If this bill takes the shape of law, it would frustrate the genuine voices of the civic societies in one or some other way.” He further said that the government (under the garb of law) wants to control rather than facilitate the civil societies.

Another speaker Kiran Kumari Gupta, a Supreme Court advocate, was of the opinion that the bill seeks to over-regulate the business of NGOs. “The NGOs could be engaged at planning and implementation level, which is still lacking for which the government carries greater responsibility. The current bill would certainly frustrate the working style of the two sectors [i.e., government and NGOs] that ought to be reconciled for the greater benefits of the populace,” further said she.

Pabitra Raut, faculty of Law at Nepal Law Campus, Kathmandu, opined that it's contradictory in itself to give space to right-based organizations or development partners and endorse stringent controlling mechanism both at the same time. “The current bill acknowledges a good deal of provisions to stifle the genuine concerns of civil societies. It's more or less conferring arbitrary powers on the government to regulate the non-governmental sectors,” added she.

Likewise, Dr Surya Dhungel, an eminent expert of Constitutional Law, said, “A clause seeks to regulate the networks of Nepal’s NGOs spread outside the country. How is it feasible? How practical is it for the Nepal’s NGOs to operate its business in the line with the legal ambits of other countries?”

He said that the government was planning to suppress the concern of right-based civil societies by invoking derogatory laws. “These types of laws would not provide enabling environment for the NGOs.”

The speakers in the programme, which saw the presence of stakeholders and advocates, argued that the bill is couched in a language which requires the civil societies to dance at the tune of the government of the day. They stressed on the need of amending restrictive provisions for the cause of liberal democracy.

Published on 6 February 2019