International rule of law monitor the World Justice Project on Tuesday presented its findings on the openness of 15 governments in the East Asia and Pacific regions, ranking Cambodia 13 – just above Mongolia and Myanmar.
The ranking – based on research from WJP’s 2014 Rule of Law Index, which ranked Cambodia 91st out of 99 countries – took into account such factors as whether a government’s proceedings were open to public opinion, and whether official information, including draft laws, was available publicly – something the government has come under fire for recently.
“An open government – one that is transparent, accessible, and responsive – is fundamental to establishing the rule of law,” WJP executive director Carlos Botero said. “Such a government fosters citizens’ participation in decisionmaking, provides access to information, empowers people with tools to hold the government accountable, and ultimately enhances the government’s legitimacy among the population.”
The recent approval of a trio of controversial draft laws by the Council of Ministers, however has renewed criticism of the lack of transparency surrounding the drafting of legislation and the failure to accept input from civil society.
“Currently, we don’t have a law on access to information, so the public and Cambodian people find it hard to get info from the government, especially on the draft laws,” said Duch Piseth, trial monitoring project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
The draft laws on judicial reform contain clauses that will give much greater powers to the Ministry of Justice, which, observers contend, would give the executive branch even greater control over the Kingdom’s oft-maligned courts – something that might not have happened with civil society input, Piseth said.
“If different stakeholders gave different inputs and recommendations to improve the original draft laws, and the government and the National Assembly accepted key recommendations to improve that, they would be better draft laws,” he said.
However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that civil society was welcome to bring its ideas to the National Assembly, but that the government was not required to consult them on draft legislation.
“For these laws, we had national and international experts to draft this kind of law,” Siphan said. “So we don’t have any such obligation or mandate to talk to NGOs.”