CSO Dialogue with Parliamentarians

GoGo Foundation in collaboration with FHI 360 organized a dialogue with Parliamentarians in Kathmandu on 21st May, 2019, in the presence of media persons, civil society activist, human rights defenders and academicians.

In the dialogue, five Member of the Federal Parliament actively took part; namely Min Bishwakarma, Jitendra Narayan Dev, Yogesh Bhattarai, Badri Pandey, Prakash Rasaili including Chiranjivi Khanal, Secretary, Nepal Law Commission, Jit Ram Lama, President, NGO Federation Nepal and Govinda Acharya, President, Federation of Nepalese Journalist.

The Project Manager, CS:MAP, Poshta KC, welcomed and Executive Director (ED), Kedar Khadka comprehensively highlighted the objective of the program and put his remarks about the intention of Government which has recently tabled several bills to amend the NHRC, Press freedom and CSOs. He further argued that CSOs which have been playing a key role in nation building process but government drafted the laws against the spirit of the constitution. He pointed out that after FNJ and CSO- struggles, the government has put on hold the CSO related bill which is currently in the ministry. However, we will be advocating for it till the government review the bills and seek our participation in the law making process. He also presented the slides touching upon the key issues of CSO from its registration to renewal. He said, despite complying with all state laws, we have to undergo many unnecessary hassles in the process of registration and renewal. He elaborated the cumbersome challenges that CSO has to undergo while CSO registration, renewal and project approval process.

In the event, two papers were presented by the experts having vibrant knowledge and expertise on CSOs related issues. The presentation made by Dr Padma Khatiwada focused on federations, civic society and institutions, issues related with Article 17 of the constitution, 2015 and CSO freedom, mobilization and regulatory perspective. During the presentation, he said we are not in favor of scrapping the existing SWC-a governing body to monitor CSOs and INGOs. The government should monitor the ill practice but should not control CSOs, he further added.

The second presentation was made by Sharada P. Trital, former Secretary, Government of Nepal. He touched upon the issues on importance ofcivic participation in public affairs and role of law makers. In the presentation, he emphasized the various modes of participation in public affairs including through elected representatives, groups and CSOs in different phases such as agenda setting, content development, drafting and voting. Like earlier presenter, he also highlighted the need of SWC as a governing body in monitoring the activities of CSOs. At the same, the CSO should also be further accountable, transparent and responsive, he said in the event.

Speaking on the occasion, Chiranjivi Khanal, Secretary, Nepal Law Commission, said that we give our strategic guidance and suggestion to the bills send to us by the government. Article 17 of the constitution clearly stipulates the freedom of formation of association and it cannot be violated by any one. While working on the bill we call for participation of civic engagement including focus group discussions, consultation and comparative analysis. After our feedbacks and recommendation, we submit it to the cabinet which gives nod to the bill.

Likewise, Badri Pandey, MP, also lamented that there was no adequate engagement with civic society while tabling the bill. There was no ample of consultation with concerned committee and subcommittee. As a result, it suffered from widespread flak. The government seems to be buoyed by the two third majorities and it is infringing upon the right and freedom of expression of citizen. Prakash Rasaily another MP, also echoed similar voice. He suggested that it is not justifiable to put all CSO in one basket and curtail the rights of NHRC. The civic engagement is essential in any issue and meeting that matters to them, he further added.

In addition, Jitendra Narayan Dev, MP questioned the intention of incumbent government saying that it is curtailing the rights of NHRC, media freedom and CSO. We should raise the voice to resist such bills and sustain hardly earned democracy after several struggles. He referred to recent PMs visit to Cambodia China and Vietnam saying that the government is making all efforts to undermine the achievements of past democratic struggle.

Min Bishwakarma, MP, said that there is a misconception that state should regulate NHRC, Media Council and CSOs activities. This is against the norms and values of democracy and constitution as well. The CSOs are the facilitators of development and not its rival. It has always remained its partner in development. Referring to the internationally acclaimed book entitled 'How Democracy Dies' he said the present government is not implementing the constitution in letter and spirit. This is manifested in recent bills which it has tabled in the cabinet without civic engagement. What led the government to curtail the rights of NHRC, press freedom and CSOs is really understandable, he questioned the government. Yogesh Bhattarai, MP, defended the allegation saying that the government intention is not to curtail the rights of NHRC, press freedom and civic space. In fact, we are trying to bring some uniformity that will help us to keep close tab on anti-national activities practiced by few external actors and its abettors. To put it simply, we are open for any modification and for that we will definitely seek civic engagement, he further added.

Govinda Acharya, President, FNJ, argued that Press is an independent entity and its right should not be infringed upon. The role of journalist is to aware people and empowering them to hold state into account. However, the recent bill aims to curtail their rights which is against the constitution in letter and in spirit. The bill has slap a fine amounting upto 1 million and imprisoned for journalist if they are found guilty of damaging someone's reputation by broadcasting or publishing the news. This is unacceptable. The Media council should be headed by an expert and follow the international practice, he further suggested.

The civil society activist who spoke on the occasion included Dr Chiranjivi Bhattarai, Shiva Paudel, AIN, Dayasagar Shrestha, President, Campaign for Sustainable Development in Nepal, Narendra Khatiwada, Youth Advocacy Forum, Jitram Lama, President, NFN, Basanta Adhikary, Executive Director, JuRI, Narendra Paswan, Madhesi Dalit NGO Federation, Bhanu Parajuli, Program Director, RRN and Uttam Upretty, Former Chairperson, NEPAN etc.

In a nutshell, the dialogue succeeded in bringing the leaders of difference party and CSO leaders together under one roof for benign cause. The dialogue also served as a space to sensitize and aware parliamentarian about international practices of CSOs and bills which are currently in the ministry and parliament for its endorsement. The participants including MPs expressed that both state and non-state actors should walk hand in hand for the overall development of the nation. It is not the appropriate time to engage in blame game, they collectively said.