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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights to Access Information policy paper in play

Rights to Access Information policy paper in play

The Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection (NA-SRI) has drafted

a policy framework for Cambodia on the Rights to Access Information. The paper will

be finalized August 27 before being eventually sent to the Council of Ministers.

Men Sam An, minister of NA-SRI, who is expected to examine the draft, said that she

was not sure when it will go to the CoM.

"We have considered the draft and it seems not to impact to freedom of the press,"

Sam An said.

Others, however, criticized the paper, which they said includes clauses that officials

could use to routinely deny the release of information that journalists and others

seeking transparency in government operations want to examine.

Chheng Saroeun, under secretary of state of NA-SRI, said that the paper includes

recommendations from the Ministries of Information, Defense, Justice, and the Ministry

of Interior. "I consulted with all related ministries in order to make the draft

to meet the international standard in compliance with the needs of the people, and

also to fill to freedom of the press," Saroeun said.

Saroeun said that the paper will be reviewed by Private Agencies Collaborating Together

(PACT)-Cambodia before it is sent to the CoM.

Sek Borisoth, director of Anti-corruption Program of PACT-Cambodia, the organization

working to support capacity building for stakeholders to improve the standard of

living and democracy, gave the draft a reserved thumbs up.

"We have had experience that in Cambodia it is difficult to access information

and to improve good governance we have to allow people access to information,"

Borisoth said.

"When we have the law government officials will not be afraid to share or release

information for stakeholders."

He said that the paper is acceptable at the moment, but needs more explanation from

experts on some technical concepts.

"If we have the will to make information flowing to stakeholders it will help

to improve society with transparency and accountability," Borisoth said.

The draft obtained by the Post states that the government is encouraging the law

because it is aimed at strengthening the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

But some Cambodian journalists are concerned that the paper as written would restrict

press freedom if it is approved by the National Assembly.

"I studied the draft and found that several versions of the draft will create

difficulty for researchers," said Khieu Kola, a member of Club of Cambodian

Journalists (CCJ). "I am a journalist. I think that if the government has had

political will to release information for the public, they should create their own

website so that people can access information."

Kola said that journalists should be concerned with the sections of the draft that

say a government official can deny the release of any information that would affect

national security, international relationships and national economics. The sections

are not defined further.

Kola said his objections concern the following clauses:

- A government institution can deny any information that they think is annoying and

gives too much information.

-All information will be released to the public only after the date a law is passed.

-The period to request and process a decision to release information will be made

within at least 20 days (working day).

Um Sarin, President of Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ),

said the draft is good, but the process of implementing laws is weak in Cambodia.

Sarin said that under the current situation, government officials do not have much

freedom to give information because the power to give information remains at top

levels.

"I think that rights to receive information are very difficult in Cambodia,"

Sarin said. "They (government) makes laws to please the donors."

Son Chhay, opposition lawmaker from the Sam Rainsy Party, said the current draft

is just a policy guideline made by NA-SRI to draft the law.

Chhay said that the right to access information is connected to the draft law on

anti-corruption, which means that government officials have to work carefully for

their own benefit.

"We saw that the current government sold most of the state assets to the private

companies and all information related to the sales and contracts were hidden,"

Chhay said. "I am a member of parliament. When I requested information from

the government's ministry, it was always denied."

He said that even his request for a list of the recruiting staff of the National

Assembly was rejected on grounds it was a secret document.

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