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NGOs and governance

Dear editor,

When the old millennium was drawing to a close and a new one was about to dawn, a

new type of governance was born to cure many ills plaguing many countries in the

world.

It was "good governance". Donors brought it to Cambodia, and Cambodian

rulers embraced it without reservation.

But some of those donors and aid recipients were thereby throwing Cambodia's democracy

baby out with the bath water - a baby which had been so troublesome to them.

Towards the end of last year and early this year, many NGOs saw their status elevated

when the country's rulers were seeking their input into formulating a good governance

program to submit to a meeting of the Consultative Group (CG) of donors in Paris

last spring.

At the behest of donors, they were made interlocutors of Cambodian rulers and donors

when they were soon invited to take part in seminars hurriedly organized to that

effect.

Those ideas and NGOs were incorporated in that program, which was then duly submitted

to the CG meeting. Cambodia's Parliament was kept in the dark though.

An element of that so called good governance, that is, participation, did the trick

and helped the Cambodian Government secure success beyond expectations at that forum.

Donors' pledges of assistance exceeded the Government's request. Since then, the

parliament has been kept in the dark about the Government programs before and after

the CG meeting.

A good governance working group has now been created whose job it is, among other

things, to develop an action plan, set benchmarks and monitor progress of this particular

reform program.

Annette Marcher's article on this working group ("'Friction-fearing donors shut

NGOs out of governance", Post, October 29), has shown that, as the title of

the article put it, NGOs are shut out of the working group. Direct and active participation

has come to an end.

The exclusion of NGOs speaks volumes about Cambodian rulers and some donors alike.

It simply shows their true colors.

Cambodian rulers are still holding on to their old authoritarian ways of running

the country and are not willing to accept ideas which are not their own or those

which are not serving their interests.

French officials, who seem to prevail over the donor community to agree with that

exclusion of NGOs, have repeated what their predecessors had done in colonial times.

They are consolidating in Cambodia what is an anachronism itself back in their country,

that is, centralized governance, and ignorance and contempt for the civil society,

when their predecessors were consolidating royal absolutism which had already become

an anachronism in their own country.

Those French officials and perhaps other donor officials have not read Cambodia's

Constitution, which guarantees, among other things, Cambodian citizens' rights to

participate in political, economic, social and cultural life of their country (Article

35). The good governance working group is an opportunity for Cambodians to exercise

these rights.

Diverting attention and resources away from democracy and focusing them on good governance

is bad enough. But excluding NGOs from such arrangements of good governance, namely,

the working group, is a denial of these rights, and surely is not the way to teach

the Cambodian nation how to live, how to organize itself for better governance.

What an English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, said about dictatorship and participation

may also apply to the present issue of governance and NGO participation: " Let

a person have nothing to do with his country, and he will not care for it. In a despotism

there is at most but one patriot, the despot himself."

Perhaps this is what the French and other aid officials want.

- Lao Mong Hay, Executive Director, Khmer Institute of Democracy

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