The INGOs and the Red Book: How Open data and On Line system can enhance the journey for better accountability.

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A recent article posted on Republica by Bhoj Raj Poudel, Time to Act, makes the case for stricter forms of regulation of International NGOs (INGOs), including, most importantly, that their budgets are enlisted in the Red Book of the Ministry of Finance, ensuring that they are fully mainstreamed in the national system.

It is actually not a bad idea at all but how feasible is it? I do remember several networking meetings when I was involved with the National School Health Nutrition Network where senior government officers from the Ministry of Health and Population were asking the members of the network, especially those representing INGOs, to include their budgets in the Red Book. On behalf of the Network I used to seek, in vain, some sort of clarity in the process to be followed.

Is there any comprehensive guideline that explains how to do this? Does any agreement signed by INGOs with Social Welfare Council, SWC, the body regulating INGO and NGOs in the country, mentioning the Red Book?

To my knowledge there are not clear procedures and I am speaking on my personal experience when my previous employer, an international NGO based in Europe working in Nepal, succeeded in publishing its budget in the Red Book. It was a really tedious job, doable of course but still plenty of obstacles and challenges.

I totally agree that all INGOs should ensure that their budget is reflected in the Red Book but at the same time the process should be made it easier, less “bumpy” and possibly more transparent. I do not see any reasons why INGOs should not welcome this new requisite. At the end of the day, it should be an interest of INGOs, (if they are enough smart) to show and demonstrate how aligned they are with the national system.

Of course you might find some organizations a bit less smart and farsighted which will try their best to refrain from any efforts towards a greater accountability, faulting an invasive  bureaucracy that will distract them from the real implementation (through local partners!) of their assumed development work.

But maybe a solution of all these problems exist already and slowly is having an impact.

The Foreign Aid Coordination Division of the Ministry of Finance has set up, with support of bilateral and multilateral partners, an Aid Management Platform, an on line system that incorporates information related expenditures of development partners. The AIN, the Association of International NGOs, had enthusiastically endorsed the initiative since its launch in 2012 and so far eighty members of the AIN are part of it.

Besides Aidinfo,( )a program of the British charity Development Initiatives is supporting a worldwide initiative for better access to aid information.

In Nepal, a consortium of local players, from civil society and private sector, including among others, Nepal Federation of NGOs, YoungInnovations and Freedom Forum was set up to foster innovation in the accountability for development sector through more and better open data.

An open data Day was held in Kathmandu on February 23rd. Simon Parrish, Program Leader at Aidinfo says: “In Nepal we have been advocating for more open data to be made available since 2011. We know that our country partners need more detailed, timely and disaggregated information about where aid is spent, not only at the country but down to particular geographic locations that identify the ultimate beneficiary and state the intended and actual outcomes of projects.”

Isn’t this potentially a real game changer? I strongly believe that any open data initiatives in the country should be strongly encouraged while it is important to maximize its alignment with the Aid Coordination Division of the Ministry of Finance.

At the same time we should not forget that the entire system is in need of a broad overhaul including the role and responsibilities of the SWC, its relationships with the Ministry of Women, Children and Welfare of which is part of and the Ministry of Finance.

While waiting for a major reform, I feel that the glass starts being “half full” as there is a new understanding among the different players on the importance of accountability and transparency. This is also thanks to a more assertive government that, despite the years of political instability, is flexing its muscles.

Step by step we are moving towards a “one window policy” where all the aid coming to the country will necessarily pass through the gates of the Ministry of Finance. When all INGOs are in Aid Management Platform and a better monitoring ensured (again the role of SWC must be questioned), a far better level of accountability will be achieved by the country.

Surely the initiative facilitated by Aidinfo and now fully owned by local partners, can complement and “enrich” the entire accountability journey “energized” by the on line platform of the Ministry of Finance.

Who knows maybe the informatization of aid will make the Red Book redundant for development players. Standard M&E procedures could follow though.



Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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