Can the SWC be turned into a Charity Commission?

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Does it make sense, in the long run, for the Social Welfare Council, SWC, the public body overseeing NGOs and INGOs, to keep functioning the way it is, as a semi autonomous body within the Ministry of Women, Children and Welfare Affairs?

Even if you strengthen the SWC, including more and stronger regional offices, what is the real value nowadays of having the SWC when it has no real autonomy or credibility among different governmental agencies?

In short here there are two main issues which the SWC has to deal with: one is related to an image problem, not only towards its clients, NGOs and INGOs but also towards senior officers within the Government of Nepal that seem to not be taking the SWC too seriously; the second and basically the “cause” of the former is instead more of substance. Said simply and plainly the SWC could be much more effective.

Moreover the SWC does not really work as “one stop shop” for NGOS and INGOs in the sense that its authority and therefore the extents of its decision making power are too limited, relying too much on other policy making bodies alias ministries within the government to carry out its work.

Let’s not talk here now about the VISA process for foreigners working for INGOs with all the “turnings and ups and downs” among ministries. Let’s be more focused on more practical things, e.g. the coordination or lack of coordination between the SWC and the Ministry of Finance in relation to the national aid platform. Certainly the work of neither NGOs nor INGOs does not become easier because of these two examples.

To be fair to the SWC, there are several factors coming to its defense: the power dynamics with the Ministry of Women, Children and Welfare Affairs are really volatile and unpredictable and often a cause of friction. Then the fact that the SWC is part of a “weak” ministry, and even with all the best intentions and often these are there, cannot really play “hardball” in terms of overseeing the vast not for profit sector of the country.

The fact that INGO’s evolutions are outsourced to a pool of external consultants is just an indicator of the institutional fragility of the Council.

Wouldn’t it be a much better idea to have a much stronger public body that remains outside the purview of any particular ministry? Because development is crosscutting, there is no reason to explain why the SWC should remain under the purview of a specific line ministry.

In a recent conversation, Ashutosh Tiwari, past chair of AIN and outgoing country director at WaterAid, mentioned the case of the Charity Commission in England and Wales  as an example of strong institution overseeing the local not for profit sector. I could not agree more.

Then why do not we, once and for all, redesign the Social Welfare Act and turn the Social Welfare Council into an all powerful body really capable to exert a strong oversight of the national not for profit sector including NGO and INGOs? Moreover with more powers delegated to the local states if a federal constitution is endorsed, it will be inevitable to think about the need of setting up local versions of the SWC while ensuring the adequate level of coordination between them and a revamped federal SWC in Kathmandu.

Despite all the friction between NGOs and INGOs, it is in the interest of both to have a stronger capable institution as counterpart with a broad mandate and adequate manpower capable to monitor and measure the impact of the not for profit sector in the country.

The challenge is not only in Nepal. In the neighborhood the proposal to establish in India a National Accreditation Council to oversee the not for profit sector did not go far. Honestly speaking, most developing countries, with a heavy presence of NGO and INGOs are facing the same problems.

Apart from the UK, Australia also boasts an autonomous body, the Australian Charity and Not For Profit Commission. Models are out there. An exchange of ideas within SAARC and maybe some sort of common strategy within the member states could also help. Then it will be up to us to decide how to adopt ideas and best practices and enact a new Social Welfare which fits into the unique circumstances of the country.

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

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