The title above has little to do with our outbound labor migration to the Middle East or the hordes of students making their way to one of many foreign destinations advertised on the ugly hoarding boards currently defacing Putali Sadak. Whenever it suits us, we – and by that I mean the current government of the day and our public sector ecosystem – publicly engineer and manipulate a kind of paranoia when it comes to everything foreign. As of now, the current government is in the process of revising the National Integrity Policy after several provisions incorporated in its first avatar drew widespread criticism from many quarters – not least the restrictive provisions on NGO’s and INGO’s.
In this country, we have a long and very consistent history of laying all our woes on the doorstep of everything foreign – foreign powers, foreign interests, foreign influences, foreign organizations and the people who work for or represent them. Truth be told, this sort of narrative has always had traction regardless of a leftist or centrist government in power. That this current Integrity Policy was incubated during the Sher Bahadur Deuba led government makes it somewhat ironical given Ms Deuba’s supposedly neck deep association with this sector.
However, it’s only now that this strategy seems to have taken on the characteristics of a witch hunt especially in light of the arbitrary provisions contained in the policy, the Oli’s government’s penchant for chest beating nationalism and his gradual centralization of power. This finger pointing also happens to be one of the oldest ploys in the politician’s handbook– playing to the gallery rather than looking to do anything substantial. The same INGO’s are often a source of jobs for politicians kith and kin, desired destinations for retired and current bureaucrats and government officials, great as partners when governments need to meet vital social indicators and targets or to adhere to international commitments and a crucial and free source of trips abroad. Yet, these ‘foreign’ organizations are cast as villains by most administrations and the people who work for them disparagingly labeled as ‘dollar farmers’.
Almost all of the non-governmental organizations operating in our country, including international ones will themselves admit to the need for this sector to be regulated due to a host of reasons namely work duplication, less red tape and easier liaison and, most importantly, to weed out the bad apples. Reforms are needed but a draconian blanket law that tars all of them with the same brush looks like the government has set out to control these organizations and help cement it’s reputation as a tough operator.
All of this posturing is not your basic fear mongering –the type of xenophobic attitudes that are becoming increasingly and disturbingly common in many parts of the western world. You know the ones focused on immigration and it’s effects on jobs, security and welfare. Here we’re ostensibly concerned with proselytizing or as one religious nut put it – brainwashing. All this anti conversion in theory can be put down to our secularism as enshrined in the constitution but it perhaps takes more than that to get a communist government to be actively interested in the topic of proselytizing – perhaps pandering to different pressure groups? And some of these fears are not completely unfounded because in the most unexpected, remote and often poor parts of Nepal, you tend to find the existence of a sort of religious syncretism that is just plain odd and entirely unexpected. Those that have traveled off the beaten path will know that it is often the most destitute that are the target of these incentivized conversions. But even this fact doesn’t justify the excesses of this policy on the sector and it’s workers.
There are a lot of people in NGO’s and INGO’s working in the fields of health, education, conservation, livelihoods, value chains, good governance and many more who work and contribute as much for the love of their country as any entitled bureaucrat. The work that they do is often in places and conditions that are extremely challenging and serves to directly complement the government efforts. Yes, they get paid well but so do government officers but you won’t exactly see the latter tripping over themselves to volunteer for field work – not unless they have free flowing alcohol and people all fawning over them.
The fact is that change must begin with oneself and we should perhaps start with our administrative system and issues of governance instead of stoking this age old – to use communist parlance – reactionary mentality. At a time when the government is constantly bleating about being ‘open’ to the world, inviting FDI and promoting tourism and culture, this is the type of ill-advised measure that undermines their efforts. That is not to say that everything is hunky dory with all foreign organizations, their modus operandi, and motivations but I should think getting our house in order first would be a priority for the new government.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org