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Nepali NGOs willing to do any work provided money is available

Prof. Dr. Dilli Ram Dahal:

Role of Government: 

The role of the government is to provide necessary goods and services to the people in a sustainable manner. But, throughout history, the performance of  Government of Nepal on this score is not satisfactory at all. Whether it is the Rana regime, the Panchayat regime or the multiparty democratic government, people as a whole have been benefited little from their development programs. Despite the overall centralized planning of the government over the last five decades and the transfusion of billions of dollars of foreign aid, the socioeconomic conditions of people have only marginally improved. Still, 85% of Nepalese people have no access to electricity, 40% people lack clean drinking water, and more than 28, 000 children die in Nepal every year because of diarrhea. Poverty is rampant and one estimate shows more, than 70% poor people in Nepal (World Bank/UNDP 1993).

Almost everybody in Nepal knows that the government has a weak institutional capacity, limited resources, and rampant corruption within its structure. The government bureaucracy does not trust NGOs as they feel that their frugal resources to run the country are gradually siphoned off towards NGOs in the name of helping or developing the Nepalese people. As the performance of the government has been poor over the years, neither the donor nor an NGO trusts the government even after a multiparty democratic government was reinstalled in Nepal after 1990.

In brief the position of each organization is so precarious in the context of development in Nepal that each group does not trust the other or maintains some kind of distance in working relationships. But the situation is such that there is no choice except to cooperate in each other’s activities. Development has become an urgent agenda for each organization, and, after all, it is always a human centered process.

The data of this paper come from my own experiences as an anthropologist while working with and participating in various NGOs/INGO and educational institutions in Nepal. The paper follows the empiricist’s approach as reliable data on many facets of NGOs (financial, transparency, accountability and measurable development activities) are lacking in Nepal. The paper is organized as follows: the first part of the paper deals with the context of NGOs/INGOs, GOs and donors with reference to development issues in Nepal. The second part highlights the number and role of NGOs in Nepal indicating the problems and issues. The last part shows the prospects of relationship between government organizations and NGOs/INGOs, with some recommendations.


The history of NGOs in Nepal hardly goes beyond the Second Five-Year Plan period (1962-1967) though voluntary organizations appeal’ throughout the history of Nepal. The number of NGOs then was estimated to be only 15. The Social Services National Coordination Council (SSNCC) was first constituted in 1977 to record the activities of NGOs in Nepal. The total number of NGOs registered at the Council was only 219 until 1990. By the end of January 1997, the number reached 5,128 and by March 26, 2000 the number had gone up to 10,475. The growth was more than 100% within the last two years. The growth rate of NGOs is indeed very rapid whereas economic growth as a whole is slow in Nepal. Likewise, the number of INGOs registered at the Council was 94 (Social Service Welfare Council, March 26, 2000).

But NGOs are also registered at the Chief District Offices (CDO) of the respective districts. According to the Council, the number of registered NGOs (including community based organizations and research firms) at the CDO offices in the 75 districts was 16.000 by June 1999. In addition, some NGOs/INGOs are registered as consultancy firms or industries at the Ministry of Industry and some are registered at the Education, Health and Finance ministries. Dr. Tika Pokharel, the Member Secretary of the Council (then) , does not call them NGOs as they are profit making organizations. So organizations such as Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies (NEFAS), New Era, East Consult, Institute of Integrated development Systems (IIDS), KARMA and others are not NGOs whereas organizations such as Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) and South Asia Partnership-Nepal (SAP/N) are treated as NGOs by the Social Welfare Council (SWC). The Executive Director of Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN) claims (claimed) that FPAN is the oldest and the biggest NGO working in Nepal, though it is not registered at the Council. The Executive Director of SAP/N, Rohit Kumar Nepali feels that an organization like SAP/N should be designated as a “civil society” organization rather than an NGO. In other words, there is still confusion among scholars and the general public about the kind of organization that should be treated as an NGO.

This paper considers all these organisations as NGOs as all of them call themselves “voluntary and non-profit organizations” whether they are registered at the Council, the CDO office or with the Ministry. If all of them are taken into account, the number of NGOs could well exceed 30,000 in Nepal today. The NGO boom is systematically linked with the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990. This is quite understandable.

But another facet of the booming growth of NGOs in Nepal is its systematic link with “money culture.” Easy money has been flowing into Nepal from many donor countries in the name of bilateral or multilateral aid. This money is easily tapped by NGOs/NGOs as donors themselves have been diverting their funds to NGOs instead of the government.

Regarding the scope of their work, Nepalese NGOs have been willing to do any kind of work provided money is available. Areas such as health, education, environment, comm unity development, women and their empowerment, women trafficking, family planning including population control, and income generating activities (particularly micro-credit programs) are some that fall within their domain. The irony is that NGOs are seen everywhere and virtually creating a parallel government structure in their working domain.

People’s Dissatisfaction:

Problems in the functioning of NGOs in Nepal

Below, a number of points are discussed to illustrate people’s dissatisfaction over the functioning of NOOs and their working relationship with the government.

Higher salary and fringe benefits than civil servants and university teachers:

In recent years, donor induced NGOs are becoming enterprises or career opportunities, a source of livelihood or employment for educated as well as well connected people. A consultant NGO of a development project pays a higher salary to its employees compared to civil servants/university employees. An INGO consultant who is involved in this same NGO pays an even higher salary to its expatriate consultants than to the Nepali counterpart consultants. An estimated salary difference of an employee working in an NGO, an INGO and a civil servant/university teacher is presented below:

In brief, an NGO/INGO Nepalese employee/consultant draws a salary which is 10-20 times higher per month than the civil servant /university employee. An expatriate draws 12 to 30 times higher than his Nepalese counterpart working in Nepal. In addition, employees working for NGOs/ INGOs get other fringe benefits such as a higher per diem, better travel medical, insurance and other facilities than the civil servants.

My own experience in Eastern Nepal gives the case, for example, of a district forest officer who was not motivated to do his district work efficiently because a peon (the lowest administrative staff member) in a forest-based INGO drew a higher salary and fringe benefits than he did (Dahal 1994).

Such differences in salary and fringe benefits have a lot of negative impact on the work ethics of HMG and University employees. There is a pull effect working to draw government and university employees towards NGOs/INGOs for higher salaries and benefits. Sometimes they leave the University system or Nepal Government permanently and at other times temporarily to work in these institutions without formal prior approval of their original employer. The government institutions or the university system are gradually becoming defunct as nobody likes to work in these institutions sincerely. Working in an NGO or creating new NGOs has become more attractive over the years than working as a government employee or university teacher.

2. The fact that an NGO/INGO is able to pay such high salaries to its employee, at the cost of government efficiency, clearly suggests that these NGOs are simply profit- making organizations who are little concerned about the delivery of public services.

NGOs as elite organizations:

NGOs are formed by the elite group or the privileged people of Nepalese society and they hardly represent a “collective picture of the Nepali community” (see Dahal 2000). NGOs are formed by progressive farmers, village leaders, headmen, religious heads and teachers even at the grassroots or village-level. In the urban area, an NGO is created either by ex-bureaucrats or retired government employees who- know the weaknesses of the functioning of the government and who retain continued contacts with the government and external aid agencies.

Again, the basic understanding about NGOs is that they participate in working with the poor or are able to reach the disadvantaged groups neglected by the government machinery. But this is not true in the case of Nepal. It is because NGOs are headed mostly by members of the middle class or upper middle class and educated people of the Nepalese society. Many of them have hardly ever seen how Nepalese women work in the remote village. They do not know how poverty has been afflicting the Nepalese people, particularly the socioeconomic conditions of “untouchable communities” in Far-western Nepal. NGOs are virtually absent in the upliftment of the poorest of the poor groups such as Raute, Chepang, Thami, Hayu, Batar. Mushhar. Kami, Damai, Sarki and so on.

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