At the moment you are working with the Niti Foundation. Why is this important for Nepal's policymaking?
At the present crucial juncture in Nepal’s political history – with the country seeking to implement its new Constitution drafted within the larger framework of democracy, federalism and republicanism - it is important to make available independent, multi-partisan strategic policy advice to policy and development actors at large. These include federal, provincial, and municipal governments, donors and other development partners, and key decision makers within government and political parties.
Niti Foundation is currently working on the role of civil society in supporting Nepal’s federal transition, going beyond development partnerships with government to collaborate in policy design as political communities representing public interest. The Niti Foundation’s ‘Strategic Advisory Group (SAG)’ project provides politically savvy and intelligent advice that is broadly available to those supporting an accountable, representative, and implementable public policy process in Nepal. The SAG has capabilities in analysis, strategic input, and navigation of policy process. SAG services are provided by Nepali experts pro bono or at cost.
What is the function of SAG? Tell us more about it.
The SAG is purpose built to operate in the current political environment in which the implementation of federalism is the critical political and administrative challenge facing the country. The federal government has prioritised economic growth through investment in infrastructure--primarily in transportation and hydropower projects. Social policy-related issues are at risk of being sidelined for the time being. Fundamental policy reforms on most fronts, including economic growth, are yet to be undertaken. Provincial and municipal governments are uniformly challenged by planning, budgeting, and human resource constraints at this time of transition.
Consequently, the delivery of public goods and services continues to reflect a poorly-performing mixture of old and new institutional arrangements. Niti Foundation and the SAG project are responding to these challenges by engaging with the federal and sub-national governments; non-state actors; and development partners to inform and advise strategic choices in provincial architecture of government and select public services such as public financial management and public security.
The SAG project has provided inputs for federal and provincial policing laws, design of provincial police architecture, setting up of a provincial development authority in two provinces, and allocations by the constitutional National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission.
How is your work engaged with local communities and stakeholders?
The SAG project is positioned as an interlocutor and helps intermediate politically-charged decision-making and strategic choice at this time of fast-paced change in governance. This is needed not only to contextualize local policy settings and to provide relevant data and evidence for informed policymaking but also to create an environment of trust and to build long-term strategic relations among donors and local policy actors.
In addition to navigation of policy process, SAG works with Nepali policymakers, analysts, and public intellectuals to ensure that indigenous capacities are used and developed to set domestic priorities and design related policy.
The SAG project supports locally-led research, advocacy, and action on state restructuring and governance; security sector reform; strategic infrastructure development (water, energy, and hydropower); combating corruption and impunity; addressing social injustice, marginalisation, and vulnerability.
What are the challenges of the work you do with SAG and the Niti Foundation?
Funding for locally-led policy reform is very challenging. Ideally, locally-led reforms should be funded locally and through unconditional sources, such as endowments and institutional grants. Conventional donors do not have the experience of trusting such reformers. They also prefer short-term projects that they can guide towards outcomes that they want.
Sharing the experience of locally-led policy reform as a desirable community of practice is challenging because of the resources and relationships that are required to break into entrenched discourse on policy reform, which is dominated by non-local development contractors.
Making sense to a broader audience is critical for financial and intellectual support, but telling your story in your own words is challenging
How can those interested support your work?
As a project of a Nepali non-profit organization with the explicit intention of providing low-cost services, Niti Foundation’s SAG is looking for funding support to offset expenses related both to personnel and to administrative overhead. Funds are usually raised through proposals to donor agencies, foundations, and Nepali government agencies.
Collaboratively funded initiatives are welcomed especially on locally-led development, intergovernmental relations, public accountability, and governance of informality.
Volunteer and pro bono expertise is part of the work ethic at Niti Foundation. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are engaged and mentored in a deliberate process of mentorship.