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Meet on freedom of information law as due date nears

Representatives of around 20 civil society organisations (CSOs) will meet today to discuss key chapters of Cambodia’s long-gestating freedom of information law, which is meant to be completed by late December.

“We’ll discuss mechanisms to submit complaints if people don’t receive the requested information,” said Phan Barmey, senior program manager at the Advocacy and Policy Institute (API).

The law has been in the works since 2007, but didn’t pick up steam until UNESCO established a memorandum of understanding with the government in the wake of the 2013 elections.

UNESCO earmarked a three-year time period for the law’s completion. Currently, a committee of officials from the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Justice, UNESCO and a handful of CSOs meet monthly to discuss and review the draft law.

Meanwhile, CSOs are meeting on the sidelines to solidify their proposals and suggestions.

But while many agree that discussions are proceeding transparently, some expressed concern about a lack of independent enforcement mechanisms once the law was adopted.

“We advocated for the government to have an independent commission to oversee the law, but we haven’t seen any signal from the government on how they will react to this,” said Transparency International Cambodia’s Preap Kol. “Political independence is always a concern, which is why we are pushing for a purely independent commission to investigate complaints.”

CSOs will request three separate channels for handling complaints from citizens seeking information: one within the ministries, one with independent bodies, and one through the courts, Barmey added.

UNESCO’s Cambodia representative Anne Lemaistre, meanwhile, said yesterday that, “There will be [UNESCO] monitors to make sure the law is implemented.”

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