The government’s controversial draft law regulating NGOs and associations will be submitted to the Council of Ministers for approval within days, with no expectation of further consultation, officials said, despite sharp condemnation from numerous organisations this week.
Nouth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday he will send the draft law to the Council of Ministers in “the first week of April”.
“I will change some points of the NGO law,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Officials at the ministries of interior and foreign affairs told civil society representatives this week they would bring recommendations on the second draft of the law to their superiors, but made no guarantee about revisions.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday the law “is in the hands of the Ministry of Interior”. He said he did not know if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had made any changes to the second draft.
Once the law has been sent to the Council of Ministers, no further consultation is expected, spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday.
Organisations representing hundreds of associations and NGOs operating in Cambodia denounced the second draft of the law in statements this week, saying the government had failed to adopt their recommendations and called for further discussion.
Several grassroots networks with members across the Kingdom said they would organise during upcoming elections to vote against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party if lawmakers pass legislation that the organisations fear would cripple civil society.
While some bilateral donors expressed concern over the law’s first draft, questioning its necessity and calling for further consultation, they have yet to weigh in on the second.
Masafumi Kuroki, the Japanese ambassador to Cambodia, said his embassy and Japanese NGOs had submitted comments to the government on the law, and he was still reviewing the second draft.
“The government has a right and prerogative to make legislation,” Kuroki said. “But at the same time, concerning this draft NGO law, I hope that the law will facilitate activities for NGOs which are contributing to the development of this country.”
Kuroki said the NGO law should be drafted “in coordination with existing laws, such as the Civil Code”, which contains provisions affecting for-profit and non-profit entities.
He said he was not yet sure how the law would affect Japanese NGOs, especially those without permanent offices in Cambodia. The latest draft states that foreign NGOs must have a “representative office” in Cambodia, “reach an agreement” with government ministries relevant to the proposed projects and sign an MOU with the Foreign Ministry.
“There are also [NGOs] that come on an ad hoc basis to extend cooperation in this country, and those NGOs do not have an office in Cambodia,” Kuroki said. “So I don’t know how those NGOs will be treated under the draft law.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY