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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sar Kheng plays ringmaster

Sar Kheng plays ringmaster

C O-INTERIOR Minister Sar Kheng was the central figure in the National Assembly debate on Aug 19-23 over the immigration law. His management of the debate gave an indication of the government's power to shape the debate and the legislative outcome.

A review of a transcript of the debate prepared for the Post shows that Sar Kheng spent his time answering questions, explaining articles and the government's intentions, but also in selecting those criticisms that would be directly considered by the National Assembly.

The transcript also indicates that when suggestions were made by an individual member of the assembly, Sar Kheng might incorporate the suggestion into the draft article under consideration.

In some instances, Sar Kheng or another member of the Assembly would voice opposition to a given amendment and that suggestion would be disregarded. In a third category of cases, suggestions would be completely ignored, even if they were raised by more than one Assembly member. In these last two categories of cases, the Assembly as a whole was never directly asked to vote on each individually suggested amendment.

In four and half days of debates, there were only three occasions on which the proposal of an MP was voted on first. Two of the occasions were proposals by Son Chhay. For example, Son Chhay argued that Article 28, which allowed the Cambodian Development Council to issue Cambodian passports to investors be deleted. His proposals was voted down 95 to 1. The government version was then accepted by a vote of 91 to 5.

Ahmad Yahya said: "I think that the rules and procedures of the National Assembly are democratic. I am satisfied with Mr Sar Kheng, with the way that he answered the questions. In each article the MPs want to understand clearly the government's intention. But some articles, the MPs still had doubts, and Sar Kheng told them the truth.

"A group of MP's are prepared to sit down to consider whether there is interference from the government in making of the law. We need to ask whether the constitution should be changed so that a member of the National Assembly must give up his seat if he is assigned to the government. Maybe the internal rules and procedures of the National Assembly need to be changed. In this debate we [the Assembly Members] seemed to give Sar Kheng the power to act as he did. Maybe we don't yet know what power the MP has. It is a learning process."

Lt-Gen Tol Lah, the secretary general of the National Assembly disagreed that Sar Kheng's management of the debate in the National Assembly gave evidence of undue government influence on the shape of the final law.

"This is an organic law. The Ministry of Interior spent a lot of time writing this law, and the Council of Ministers in considering the law. There were wide consultations when it reached the commission here at the Assembly. If you look at organic law outcomes in other countries you will see that 90 percent of the time the government gets what it wants. You simply cannot cut another's shirt to your measure."

Son Chhay said: "The law spent a lot of time in the committee, more than a month, and they changed very little. When it came to the debate everyone felt that it would be tough to display their feelings. There have been so many illegal immigrants, they felt that there must be a very tough immigration law. All of my requests to make change did not gain any support. Now they may not agree or understand. In the next few years they will see that the article will cause misunderstanding and difficulty in its implementation."

Lah said if members of the National Assembly want to draft a law, they should choose a small area, which is not under the jurisdiction of any single Ministry.

Son Chhay told that Post that he would soon submit a draft law to fight corruption.

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