The initial months of 2022 have been full of turmoil for the Nepal Red Cross Society, often the only provider of humanitarian services in the remotest corners of the Himalayan country.
By Bijoy Patro
On 3 February, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), Jagan Chapagain, met with Nepal’s prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. He also met the speaker of parliament’s house of representatives and the country’s minister for women, children and senior citizens. Earlier, on January 23, his special representative, Walter Cotte W had met with the Nepal foreign minister Narayan Khadka.
These were no ordinary visits. Sources told OWSA that Chapagain has his hands full with legal issues confronting the Red Cross in Nepal, often the only provider of humanitarian services in the remotest corners of the Himalayan country, also Chapagain’s own country of origin. The IFRC has been urging for a national Red Cross law for Nepal.
The governance of the Nepal Red Cross Society is in a shambles and there is confusion through the rank and file of the country’s largest humanitarian organisation. Staff complain that there is no clarity of who is in charge in the Red Cross, partners are confused whom they should be working with and financial management is ad hoc.
Officials, including the Nepal Red Cross executive director were unceremoniously dismissed, staff wore black bands and struck work for days on end, there has been litigation and even an ugly confrontation between a delegation of the organisation’s governance team and the staff. Simultaneously, the new committee formed by the government excluded the secretary general.
Politically aligned groups
The Nepal’s government too has also added to the tumult. It did not allow a previous management committee to settle and complete its term. It dissolved the management committee and then, replaced it with one comprising of its own people. The legitimacy of the two management committees is now left to the country’s supreme court to decide.
The two management committees are grouped along the lines of the political parties that have ruled the country. The previous management committee included people from different political parties. Members of the latest management committee appointed by the present government are associated with the present dispensation.
Besides these two management committees, there is also a third committee propped up by Chapagain’s organisation, the IFRC. This is called the transitional committee and it holds influence over the international funding that IFRC and other Red Cross partners get for the Nepal Red Cross. The transitional committee answers to a compliance and mediation committee (CMC) that is based outside the country.
The transitional committee is designed to help NRCS to “recover the stability and normalcy of the governance and management of the national society.” Among its members, it has a former NRCS executive director, former NRCS office bearers and a former staff of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC).
“The transitional committee is Geneva’s carrot-and-stick policy,” says a senior official of the Nepal Red Cross on conditions of anonymity.
One of its objectives is to help “conclude an agreement among key stakeholders on the fundamental solutions.”
With the politically-leaning committees fighting for the management of the Red Cross in Nepal, 2022 so far has been full of turmoil for the Nepal Red Cross Society.
“The two committees are two warring factions that won’t budge from where they stand,” says the official who is privy to the developments. “They have approached the supreme court and yet, they don’t have a problem with the transitional committee.”
The concern and importance the infighting is assuming in Nepal’s scheme of things is drawing interest. Infighting among politically leaning groups are not new to the Red Cross and the movement has decades of experience handling this. It has happened across the world and particularly in SouthAsia.
Some of the Red Cross staff OWSA spoke to said that it is imperative to have the secretary general reinstated so that day-to-day decision-making does not suffer any further.
Besides this, Cotte’s role is being watched with interest. He was sent specially to help resolve the governance crisis confronting the NRCS. There is concern that the crisis is reflecting in the reputation of the Red Cross movement in Nepal and elsewhere in the world. More particularly, Cotte’s visit has clearly spelt out a number of issues impinging on the Red Cross’ integrity in Nepal.
As the call for action included in a statement at the end of Cotte’s visit reads, “IFRC calls on all stakeholders to put personal and groups’ interests aside, so that we can together protect the NRCS integrity, unity, neutrality and reputation, both in the country and internationally.”
Cotte’s call also expresses concern about accountability for monies that partners have provided to Nepal Red Cross.