Civil society organisations express concern over what they say are efforts to deflect scrutiny of the proposed legislation that will regulate NGOs
CIVIL society groups have expressed fresh concerns over controversial legislation to regulate NGOs that is expected to be promulgated in early 2009, saying the government has shown little willingness to accept public input on the draft ahead of its submission to the National Assembly.
Ngy Chakrya, head of the monitoring section of the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, said that despite the planned parliamentary debate on the law, civil society groups that asked for a copy of the draft were told it was not yet finished.
"If the government does not allow us to see the draft before it is submitted to parliament, the government's decision is not transparent," he said.
"I can't say whether this hiding away is good or bad, but it is not the transparency one expects in a democratic country," Ngy Chakrya added.
"If they created this law without civil societies' attendance, it means that they want to shut out the voice of civil society."
Yang Kim Eng, president of the People's Centre for Development and Peace, said that the passing of the Local Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations Law, first drafted by the Ministry of Interior in 2006, could force some NGOs to fold.
"If this law is issued, I think it will impose restrictions on NGOs wanting to work freely," he said. "Some NGOs will not be able to help people because they will be trailed by the government."
If passed, the law will require the Kingdom's 2,000 or so NGOs and charities to undergo a complex registration process and report the sources of their funding to the government.
But some civil society groups said the government's greatest priority should be the country's endemic corruption - not cracking down on NGOs.
"I don't have an opinion as to whether civil society should be involved with this law or not, but it is important to discourage this law from being created," said Koul Panha, executive director of Cambodian election monitor Comfrel.
"The government must not think of controlling NGOs, since NGOs have obligations to serve and help people," he added.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann also criticised the draft law, saying that in its rush to organise a law impeding civil society, the government was leaving large legislative gaps in other areas.
"The government should use its time better because there is no problem with NGOs - they have helped us a lot," he said.
"We should use the time to create anti-corruption laws and laws on judicial appointments," he added.
Nouth Sa An, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, did not comment on the proposed law in depth, but said that it had passed the drafting stage and was awaiting further reviews within the ministry.
"We have already drafted it, but it has not been rechecked," he said.
"Normally if we have already reviewed [a law] we will permit civil society to check it as well," he added.