Promoting Transparency and Accountability for Right Based Community Forestry in Nepal (Phase 2)

Promoting Transparency and Accountability for Right Based Community Forestry in Nepal (Phase 2)

YEARS: 2012-2013
THEME:  Natural Resources

As of 2012, Nepal ranks at 141st place among 176 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), according to Transparency International (TI), a global corruption watchdog. India is ranked at 94th place in the list and China at 80th place. Similarly, Pakistan is ranked in the 139th position alongside Nepal. Afghanistan and Bangladesh are the only South Asian countries that are more corrupt than Nepal in the region. The report states that lack of accountable leadership and effective public institutions in these countries underscore the need to take a much stronger stance against corruption. Corruption in public offices, level of corruption, action against corruption and its output, government’s anti-corruption initiatives, administrative corruption, political corruption, bribing in import and export, and irregularities in contract awards have all contributed in making Nepal one of the most corrupt nations in the region. The Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) also states that the situation in Nepal is worsening. It is because of the political transition, impunity and lack of accountability. Nepalese history shows that during the political instability the deforestation and forest product smuggling in Terai is very high. Though small one, the relevancy of this project in the Terai in this transitional period has a great value.

The 2nd phase of the project has begun after almost a year gap from the 1st phase. Though a small and short-term initiative, the 1st phase project was the first project addressing the issues of corruption and accountability in the history of forestry sector in Nepal. Due to this long gap, the effort of 1st quarter was revived during the second phase. In recent days, addressing corruption in the forestry sector is in high priority of Government of Nepal as well. The recruitment of human resources, finalization of additional CFUGs for the second phase, conducting baseline for the additional CFUGs, project reflection/inception meetings and consolidation of the achievements of the 1st phase etc. were major activities carried out during the second phase.

Nepal is in the path of constitution making. This quarter was critical for the nation. The constituent assembly (CA) had to provide constitution to the nation during this period, which ultimately failed to do so. The whole quarter passed through the strikes, demonstrations, blockades and agitations. Ultimately the CA assembly collapsed without bringing the new constitution. This also hampered the project activities in the field. During this quarter there was almost 45 days strike all over the country. So, major chunk of the time of the 3rd quarter was spent on the review of past events and documents as the field activities were seriously hampered. Focused intervention for new CFUGs, their orientation, support for the preparation of operational plan and constitution for registration and other capacity enhancement efforts were made during this quarter. The decision of DFO for pending the registration of new CFUG due to the irregularity has been changed after monitoring of project intervention CFUGs as 3 CFUGs got approval for formal registration. Likewise, technical support was also provided in the areas like – support for CF handing over process, completion of household survey for new CFUGs, wellbeing ranking, providing support for preparing constitution of CFUG, CF boundary survey, preparing forest resource inventory and data analysis, and CF operation plan preparation which are not actually accounted in the overall project framework. This quarter was more challenging because of some due activities as well as the festive and harvesting season. Despite this challenge most of the remaining activities have been either completed or merged into the plan of the next quarter. Project action plan has been reviewed in consultation with the project team and partner.

Similarly, a team of PTF consisting of Dr Fred Temple and Ms Laura Tashjian visited ForestAction (FA) and interacted with the project and FA Team. One-day field visit was also organized and the PTF team provided encouragement and feedbacks to the project team. The team interacted with project field team, FECOFUN, intervention CFUG and non-intervention CFUG.

The increasing institutionalization of public audit and public hearing gives hope for both project and stakeholders for the sustainability of the project. In this quarter many public audit events were organized at CFUGs level to make their decisions and income and expenditure transparent. The discussion and issues raised during the event is quite encouraging especially the appreciation of the project intervention for organizing such events to aware and empower people. Similarly, training on “public account management” provided to all 9 CFUGs to provide support for conducting and institutionalize public audit and/or public hearing activities further helped to enhance their capacity to carry out the task more efficiently. The anti corruption campaign was carried out in focused and targeted way with the engagement of a team of anti-corruption volunteer who received PAL training. The organization of series of campaigns at both clusters to raise awareness and pressurize the groups and persons who has been involved in such wrong doings was both essential and challenging. The process of facilitating CFUGs to declare as corruption free zone forestry sector was quite new and challenging for all of the project professionals and forest authority. After series of discussion a team drafted white paper to do so. At the same time project team has also been coordinating with district forest authority to institutionalize the learning of the project in the overall system. The piloting of preparing self-monitoring tool kit was also finalized and shared to district forest authority as well to practice in non-project intervention CFUGs. It is very important achievement for the project that all the stakeholders including district and regional forest authorities realized that the issue in which the project is working is pertinent for more than 17,000 CFUGs all over Nepal. They found the project very relevant to address the issue to fight with irregularity and lack of transparency and good governance not only in CFUGs but also in overall forestry sector. The major challenge faced by the project is increasing monitory demand and threatening from the armed group (so called political party of Limbuwan Salvation Front).

To sum up, the project has been implemented very smoothly with positive impression to the wider level of stakeholders and achieved remarkable outputs. Though the project was so ambitious, all the activities were carried out efficiently and effectively. Activities like declaration of corruption free zone, finalization of self-assessment guideline and procedure, preparations of documentary film etc. were challenging for the project team but accomplished successfully. The major event in the field was also to organize and have fruitful discussion on “Anti-corruption Bill, 2011 and Right to Information (RTI) Act 2008” at the Regional level. All the participants like Regional Forest Director, DFO, FECOFUN representatives from Morang, Jhapa and Sunsari and journalists participated actively in the meeting and realized the need of dissemination of such provisions at local level as well. Similarly, the piloting of self-monitoring tool kit is almost in final stage. DFO has adopted the guideline and used first time to select best CFUG in the district. A detail assessment of 28 CFUGs has been conducted in association with District Forest Office using the Self-governance Assessment Tool designed during the course of the project. Dhankheti CFUG (listed as one of the weakest and corrupted CFUG before 3 years), in which the project has initiated its intervention, has been ranked as a best CFUG and won the prize.

The declaration of corruption-free zone has been a major challenge for both project personnel and CFUGs. After series of discussions 3 CFUGs from the project intervention area declared them as corruption free zone with a 22 points declaration. The declaration has been displayed in public place and signed by each household of the CFUG members. It is challenging but expected that it will be translated into practice and upscaled in the upcoming days.  Likewise, a 25-minute video on the success and lessons of the project has been prepared capturing situation before 3 years, project intervention and changes that happened during the course of the project. Makalu TV has broadcast this documentary film.

During the project period a series of multi-stakeholder watchdog committee interactions and interaction with forest authority were held. The engagement of multi-stakeholders team like: community forest user groups, District Forest Office (DFO), political party representatives and FECOFUN to rendezvous the need of the forestry sector is realized by different stakeholders as a beauty of this project. The interface with these various actors on the forestry related corruption issues has sensitized the concerned stakeholders about their responsibility and accountability towards better forest resource management. The corruption issues at local level have been unveiled gradually. During the discussion with multi-stakeholders watchdog committee it was found that the misconducts and corruption issues are almost the same at the local government level.  The multi-stakeholder watchdog committee could be an overall catalytic agent to fight the local level corruption. The limited resources, small target group and small project are some of the constraints of the project. A one-year small intervention with a small resource will not be enough to institutionalize the anti-corruption mechanism. It should be upscaled with large resources as well as reasonable geographical coverage. The uncertainty of the next phase may hamper the continuation of these achievements that needs a bit long intervention to make it sustained.

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