Common people’s perception of international development partners working in Nepal is decidedly mixed. The pivotal role played by donors in vital sectors like health and education is indubitable. But cynicism of the donor community has grown in recent times as many of the donors are seen, rightly or wrongly, to be imposing their own political agenda, over and above Nepal’s interest. Not just that, their tendency to recruit expensive foreign staff and their opaque operating procedures make many question their credibility and effectiveness.
The concern of these skeptics is legitimate. A recent survey entitled “Aid Transparency Situation in Nepal” conducted by Freedom Forum and Aid Info, found that most donor beneficiaries are unaware of where most of the budget for designated projects is going. Since the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly on May 27, many development partners have expressed their reservations about working in a country that lacks an effective monitoring mechanism in its parliament. We believe the donors should first look to get their own house in order before worrying about how the Nepal government can (or cannot) spend their money. In the absence of a credible government, some development partners want greater leeway in the spending of their funds, in individual capacity as and when they see fit.
Given that Nepal relies on its foreign friends for more than 70 percent of its annual development budget, the donor community enjoys considerable clout not just in prioritizing development projects but also on deciding the trajectory of the political process. Since CA’s expiry, many development partners have been insisting that the country should look to get itself on a firmer economic footing even as it struggles to get its political house in order. The logic seems to be that political developments will invariably follow economic development. We believe the political and economic processes are inextricably linked. As things stand, without first settling the contentious political issues, it will be very difficult to put together credible economic plans, with or without donor help.
We urge our development partners to show a little more patience with the development of the political process in the country. There is no doubt that the country needs to get its economy (which is in a shambles amidst a prolonged transition) in order to secure the livelihoods of its citizens. But to expect important Nepali actors to get their economic priorities right when the country does not even have a credible constitution in place is unrealistic. This is no time for donors to extract greater leeway on spending of funds. If the donors are seen trying to push through their pet projects in these troubled times, the cynicism of donor agencies could further increase. Trust building is a two-way process. In this critical juncture, the donor community has the opportunity to restore its credibility by sticking out with Nepalis in these tough times