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Optimism that gov’t will change its tune

A consortium of civil society groups met yesterday to finalise a list of recommendations to the government for inclusion in its latest National Strategic Development Plan.

The NSDP lays out, in broad strokes, the government’s policy for the next five years.

Though the groups said they were given “very little input” in the government’s 2009 NSDP, speakers yesterday expressed hope that a newly chastened ruling party may prove more amenable to suggestion after suffering heavy losses in July’s national elections.

Among the most important recommendations identified by the workshop’s 160 participants are a law on access to information, another on judicial reform, greater government accountability for state revenue and fostering an “enabling environment” for civil society involvement in policy planning and implementation.

NGO Forum executive director Chhith Sam Ath told reporters yesterday that the government’s acceptance of last year’s recommendations was “minimal”, but expressed hope that this year would be different.

Echoing the sentiment, Suon Bunsak, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, suggested that cooperation with civil society could even be beneficial to the government.

“Currently, any political party, when they hold power, is going to be under pressure from the public,” he said. “The government … would like to show to their people [that they] try harder.”

Mam Sambath, executive director of the NGO Development and Partnership in Action, said that in the current political atmosphere the hope for greater cooperation was not unfounded, and pointed to a workshop with civil society proposed by the Ministry of Justice as evidence.

“I think the Royal Government really learned from the results of this election [and] the participation of people,” he said, noting that the huge gains made by the opposition were “making the government review its behaviour”.

For her part, independent political analyst Chea Vannath agreed.

“The whole purpose of having an election every five years is to encourage the government to be more accountable to the people,” she said.

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