Open letter on the current status of governance of Nepal Red Cross Society


Kathmandu, June 18. The government of Nepal has once again intervened in the autonomy of Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) by forming a new Ad-hoc committee by including the most controversial people, who were alleged to misuse the resources and promote the bad governance in Nepal Red Cross Society.

Nepal Red Cross Society has been undergoing an institutional crisis for the last 5-7 years and remains in limbo due to the consequences of various organizational and administrative misconduct by its leadership over several years. A number of anomalies in the governance system were reported by the media such as corruption, the capture of resources for personal benefit, misuse of vehicle and project budget, the capture of institutions- central committee to Districts chapters and sub chapiters by a few individuals. The same people have remained in executive power on average for more than 20 years which prevents new leadership from entering the organization.  Chapters and sub-chapters are exclusively male-dominated and youth and women are rarely provided opportunities to be included at the decision-making level. Statutory taxes such as vehicle taxes and other property taxes owed to the government remain overdue.  Projects funded by international partners were not duly approved by the government authority etc., which were the anomalies in Nepal Red Cross Society’s governance.

After years of misconduct within NRCS, the government of Nepal and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) finally initiated an investigation process on the anomalies reported by the media and complaints from individuals and groups that included the NRCS staff members themselves. The Government of Nepal formed a high-level committee to investigate the issues. The committee validated the existence of serious problems in the NRCS governance system including illegitimate project governance, weak internal control, flaws in procurement systems, misuse of vehicles and equipment, the lack of proper inventory systems the capture of the institution by a few individuals. The committee recommended the amendment of the statute of NRCS by changing and replacing a number of articles. Similarly, IFRC had also initiated the investigation on the reporting about the anomalies in NRCS.  IFRC had also formed a task team (PricewaterhouseCoopers Ltd.-PWC) to investigate financial irregularities and the task team found a number of irregularities and mi- management of the resources. A Committee for Mediation and Compliance (CMC) of IFRC sent a mission to Nepal. The mission came with a number of recommendations including reviving the legal status, amending of the statute, and developing the Red Cross Act. IFRC’s Joint Statute Commission (JSC) also recommended a number of amendments to the statute, such as the rotation of leadership (two-term only), inclusion, and separation of governance and management.

With evidence collected from the investigations, the Government of Nepal formed a Central Ad-hoc Executive Committee in July 2020 with a mandate to revive the legal status of the organization, amend the statute, and contribute to the development of the Red Cross Act. The first 8 months of the Ad-hoc Executive Committeetenure were smooth. The committee organized consultation meetings across provinces and districts on the revision of the statute. Moreover, even amidst the pandemic, the committee successfully carried out consultations needed to build the groundwork to form the Red Cross Act with contributions from NRCS staff and stakeholders across Nepal. Further, an O&M survey was done to form the organization to institutionalize good governance and enhance the organization’s capacity to adapt to the new state structure- Municipality, Province, and Federal structure.

However, a small group of individuals claiming to be NRCSvolunteers were not happy with the initiatives of the reform programs. For the few first months, they remained active to derail the process, but as soon as the government changed in July 2021, they found political allies who stall the positive changes happening in Red Cross. First, they influenced the Ministry of Home Affairs which issued a letter to the Central Ad-hoc Committee urging them to withdraw any amendments to the statute on grounds that the committee does not have the mandate to reform NRCS. Following this, the Ad-hoc Committee went to the Supreme Court to file a case against the government’s decision. The court’s verdict directed the government to stop intervening in NRCS’ organizational and administrative matters. Further, the court ordered the government to allow statute amendment, and also to allow activities mandated by the statute of the Red Cross Society to run without disruption.

The Ad-hoc Committee’s Road map suggested multiple changes to the statute, which were the minimum conditions required to bring changes to the existing anomalies of the Nepal Red Cross Society. First, it addressed the issues of leadership tenure, suggesting a provision that would ensure a rotation of leadership that should not exceed two terms (a maximum of 8 years). Second, the committee suggested that the statute be amended to include at least 33% of women in decision-making positions in all committees in compliance to Nepal’s constitutional provision and to extend the chapters to the Municipality level. Third, the Committee emphasized the separation of governance and management as an important amendment to the statute, among some other smaller amendments. However, the Government with the support of a small group of people who were in opposition to the reform process called for policeinterventionsduring the special assembly that was organized on 14 and 15 November 2021 for the amendment of the statute.  The group of offenders barged into the assembly and vandalized equipment, tore the draft statute, and looted the NRCS jackets, batches, and logos from the venue of the statute assembly. The assembly was unsuccessful due to police intervention.

The Ad-hoc Committee had planned to organize assemblies on statute amendment on 1 January 2022 and hold central committee elections on 13 and 14 January 2022. However, on 29 December 2021, the government dissolved the Ad-hoc Committee that was about to complete its tasks just 15 days before the general assembly for central committee elections and formed a new committee that included individuals who had been campaigning against reforms in NRC, and who had been accused of holding on to executive positions at NRCS for a long period of time. The government’s decision to dissolve the ad-hoc Committee which was aiming to complete its mandate clearly shows the erroneous intention of the government to protect the interests of a few individuals at NRCS.

On 7 January 2022, the court once again gave the verdict to stop the government’s decision to dissolve the Ad-hoc Committee that was made on 29 December 2021. The court scheduled a hearing one week later inviting both parties. However, because of multiple reasons including a tight schedule and other reasons the court postponed the hearing multiple times until 14 June 2022 (this was the 10thtime it was rescheduled. The court order to hold the government’s decision to dissolve the Ad-hoc Committee means that the court has not legitimized the new committee that was formed on 29 December 2021 and instead legitimized the Ad-hoc Committee that was working from July 2020 and its mandate to work and perform its duties until the next decision is made by the court. However, that was not the case as the new committee imposed a number of obstacles including padlocking the Executives Offices which aligned with the interests of senior staff who had been against governance reforms NRCS from the very beginning of the Ad-hoc Committee’s work. The Executive Director and some other senior staff were particularly unhappy with the policy decisions on the fixed term of 3 years and 5 years for Executive Directors and Directors respectively. They also agitated for months by padlocking the office to revoke the policy decision as they wanted to be forever in the positions.

On 9 February 2022, the District Administration Office, Kathmandu took over the Executive Committee rights and recruited the Executive Director, the same disputed person, who was already retired as per the staff policy of NRCS. With the decisions and take over from the government of its daily work, the autonomy and independence of the NRCS vanished as this was an attack on the volunteer spirit of the humanitarian organization.  It seems that the District Administration Office of Kathmandu runs the NRCS parallelly to the Volunteer’s Committee that legitimize by the verdict of the court. It indicates a risk of creating parallel NRCS in the future throughout the districts, which is against the principle of Recross movement of one country one NRCS. The story did not end there.

The government intervened with the police force on 20 April 2022 for not allowing the office bearers to enter into the NRCS office and the office bearers including the Chairperson were taken to the police station. The next day again on 21 April, the police force stopped the office bearers from entering their offices to work. This act of the government was vehemently opposed by the media and some other stakeholders. The police intervention in an independent and neutral humanitarian organization attracted the attention of parliament members and the members of parliaments in both the lower house and upper house sought clarification from the government for the reason for to use of the police force at NRCS. The Government has not yet responded with clarifications.

On 14 June 2022, the government again intervened in matters within and concerning NRCS by forming a new Ad-hoc Committee and including the same disputed people who were ordered by the court not to work. Some of these individuals are also facing a case of contempt of court. The government’s decision to form a new committee is another attack to the autonomy and independence of a humanitarian organization, especially during a time when the case is under consideration in the court and the legitimacy still stands with the Ad-committee that was in operation before 29 December 2022.

Recently, the Nepal country office has also been entangled in controversies particularly in purchasing and distributing pickup vehicles as they were allegedly distributed without setting criteria and also grabbed by those who allegedly captured the resources and misused the vehicles and equipment. This was not the correct time nor the correct process to purchase and distribute the pick-up without placing a strong fleet management policy in NRCS as these pick-up vehicles are mostly used by the district chapter presidents for their personal use in the name of volunteerism.

It is now time to speak out about the anomalies in NRCS and find ways to transform NRCS into a good governed and really a humanitarian organization. The NRCS really needs to be taken out of the vicious cycle of a few handfuls of people with vested interest and it is unfortunate that the government also indulges in the controversies. Responsibilities lie to all actors- volunteers, staff members, IFRC, and the government to come together to comply with the rule of the game. More responsibility lies with the IFRC, its associated entities, and the partner national societies to take neutral stands and comply with the procedures and rules in order to revive the image of NRCS.  We are sending this open letter at a time that after 3 days the delegates of the 23rd session of the general assembly of IFRC will be gathered across the world with the hope that Nepal’s case also gets attention in the highest policy-making forum.