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NGOs’ hidden agenda

Opinion
In their letter to 17 United Nations  agencies, Brad Adams and his peers in the Group of 10 International NGOs have made a regrettable mistake and revealed their true intentions to the international community.

This “letter” is the latest example of the relentless pressure big-name NGOs are exerting on the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to fashion its proposed draft law on NGOs in such a way that it conforms to “international standards”.

It is accompanied by a warning – effectively a threat – that Cambodia’s development partners must review their involvement in this country.

In truth, the year-long campaign against the RGC’s duty to regulate NGOs is a well-designed scheme to let them run wild.

These big organisations apparently envisage a “wild, wild West” where NGOs can ride free and shoot at will. Even worse, it’s a cheap stunt designed to bring the RGC to its knees and blindly accept the rules of its international masters.

But if one reads between the lines of this “letter”, the flaw in its argument is revealed. It is the double standard in the application of the principle of transparency and accountability, which cannot be
tolerated by UN agencies or the international community at large.

For Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, and his peers, the principle of transparency and accountability must be applied by the RGC, but must not be applied by NGOs.

In Cambodia, NGOs are viewed as partners of the RGC in the delivery of basic social services. A  different group of NGOs is involved in advocacy for legal rights and human rights.

The people who run NGOs benefit from them differently: the first group from effective delivery of social services to the needy, and the second group from executing the orders of international legal and human-rights organisations based in developed countries that provide funding for NGOs operating in Cambodia.

For more than 20 years, NGOs in Cambodia have behaved as if the country of the Khmers is the Wild West – good for riding and shooting, with no questions asked – thanks to their overseas sponsors and funding partners, who are honest and compassionate by nature and who believe the funds provided to NGOs in Cambodia will be used for the betterment of neglected Cambodians.

The sponsors and funding partners of legal and human-rights NGOs, however, have a hidden agenda. They seemingly aspire to become famous by bringing down an elected government that, for myriad reasons, they don’t like.

Brad Adams has a “vendetta” against the RGC, and especially Samdech Techo Hun Sen, for causing him to lose a lucrative opportunity when he was working in Cambodia.

“Transparency” and “accountability” seem to be the words Adams and his peers fear most. Reporting where the funding of NGOs in Cambodia comes from, and where it goes, will expose the real agenda of a number of international “politicised” NGOs.

The so-called “problematic issues” with the draft law cited by Adams and company in their September 9 letter are simply misplaced accusations intended to shield NGOs involved in legal and human rights in Cambodia from having to adhere to the rules of transparency and accountability.

The letter praises NGOs’ efforts to ensure transparency and accountability in implementing their Cambodian projects and declares: “Their efforts will be negatively affected as civil society groups monitoring government projects face tighter, and potentially hostile, government scrutiny.”

It’s a bit rich for Adams and his peers to sell their accusations against the RGC on the grounds of transparency and accountability. The quest-ion is: why is this  principle applic-able only to the government of Cambodia, and not for NGOs?

This double standard will only serve to undermine the reputation of the 10 international NGOs. The 17 UN agencies must show fairness for the RGC in their consideration of the letter.

The letter also speaks about the required registration by law in these terms: “The registration scheme should not be used to undermine freedom of association, expression or assembly.”

One of the negative impacts cited is that “It creates burdensome and expensive reporting requirements that will particularly disadvantage grassroots citizens’ associations and groups.”

This is a complete exaggeration, and would be laughable even to a second- year student in basic accounting.

The attempt to shore up misplaced accusations against Cambodia’s NGO draft law reveal beyond all else that the concerted effort to protect the group of NGOs involved in the advocacy of legal and human rights in Cambodia from having to adhere to the principle of transparency and accountability will not escape the watchful eyes of unbiased observers.

It would be much fairer, and more fruitful, to all concerned if big-name NGOs stopped treating Cambodia as their “Wild, Wild West”. 

Professor Pen Ngoeun is an academic adviser at the University of Puthisastra and a member of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

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