Govt does U-turn to let INGOs hand out medical supplies, food, cash directly

Published On: April 4, 2020 08:00 AM NPT By: Ashok Dahal  | @ashokpillar

KATHMANDU, April 4: After International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs) working in Nepal snubbed a call for financial contributions to its COVID-19 pandemic response fund, the government has decided to allow them to distribute relief materials or medical equipment directly-- a move that goes against its own earlier decision.

Social Welfare Council (SWC) -- a government body that monitors the activities of INGOs -- has asked all INGOs to come up with plans to mobilize for COVID-19 pandemic response activities with at least 20 percent of their total approved budget for various ongoing projects, and to do so by Wednesday.

Although a Working Procedure on Relief Distribution issued by the Ministry of Finance earlier states that all financial relief should be channeled through a national relief fund established by the government, INGOs based in Nepal have declined to donate their money to the government fund. "INGOs did not agree to deposit in the government's fund, stating that they wanted to spend their money under their own supervision," said SWC Deputy Director Durga Bhattarai.

The Finance Ministry had come up with the Working Procedure as experience in the aftermath of the huge earthquake in 2015 showed that direct distribution of relief materials and other logistics by INGOs posed the risk of duplication and of those in extreme need being overlooked. "The government should coordinate with the INGOs to avoid duplication in distribution of relief or medical equipment," Bhattarai further said.

With the latest decision of the SWC, the INGOs may involve themselves in directly providing medical supplies to health workers as well as in distributing food or cash relief to needy people identified by local governments.

Asked if the SWC plan to allow INGOs to distribute relief materials and medical logistics directly contradicts the Working Procedure on Relief Distribution, spokesperson at the Finance Ministry Utter Kumar Khatri said INGOs can coordinate with the local governments for distribution of monetary relief.

The federal government has entrusted the local governments to identify people hit hard as a result of the weeks-long nationwide lockdown and distribute necessary relief. In a letter sent to INGOs Thursday, the SWC has asked them to coordinate with the local governments concerned for relief distribution and with the Health Ministry for providing medical kits.

After a meeting with representatives from all the INGOs, the SWC has asked them to submit an amendment proposal on their projects within a week, allocating to the pandemic preparedness and response activities at least 20 percent of their total approved budget for existing projects.

Although some INGOs were ready to allocate all the unspent money earmarked for existing projects to Covid-19 response activities, they were not willing to hand over the money to the government fund, according to SWC sources. Some of INGOs have started holding consultations over shipping medical equipment jointly from abroad for distribution to health workers in the country, said an INGO representative asking not to be named.

Deputy Director Bhattarai confirmed that INGOs are being asked to plan Covid-19 response activities for two months, diverting their budgets to provide health equipment or relief materials including food or cash support to the needy ."We have asked all INGOs to focus on two areas -- providing medical equipment or relief materials that could be either food or cash to the needy people," he said.

The SWC has approved around Rs 26 billon in budget funds for various projects from among 210 active INGOs in the country. With their commitment to allocate at least 20 percent of their approved budget, INGOs are expected to contribute around Rs 4 billion to pandemic prevention and relief activities in the next two months. Over Rs 217 million has been collected so far in the Covid-19 Response Fund, according to the Prime Minister's Office.

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