FACT: There are reportedly more than 300 non-government Organisations in Siem Reap. What does that tell us? That they are an essential part of the progress and prosperity of a developing nation, or that the Kingdom is a haven for local and international NGOs – about 30 percent in the latter category ? It poses the basic questions of who, what, why, who they are, what they are doing/achieving, and why are they here?
Cambodia, it is said, is an example of a post-conflict society in which traditional forms of civil society organisations were devastated and then re-emerged in new forms as part of the reconstruction process.
Hence the burgeoning of the NGOs, legally constituted organisations operating independently, or so their charter goes, of any government. In Cambodia, now becoming the civil independent organisations, they moved en-mass into the Kingdom in the 1980s aiming to help rebuild a war-torn country.
Humanitarian international NGOs arrived followed by the establishment of local NGOs.
It is about 30 years since the country opened its doors to let in the NGOs and now more than US$100 million a year in funding is distributed by them operating in Cambodia, although many find their own funding an ongoing problem.
Some are totally or partially funded by governments or government instrumentalities while others rely on local entrepreneurs, fundraising and donations.
The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law believes the Cambodian government and its development partners recognise that NGOs and INGOs have made an important contribution to rehabilitation and reconstruction and development over the past 30 years and says NGOs are viewed as important partners in the delivery of basic social services, although in practice they have limited influence on government strategy and policy.
Prime Minister Hun Sen himself said: “We respect the international NGOs whose activities serve humanity and help the government of Cambodia.”
Yet a law governing NGOs has now been on the table for a long time and although in some form it is definitely coming, there are very much two camps on the subject which is hardly surprisingly.
Cambodian officials are defending the need for a law on NGOs on the basic premise that they have grown too large and gone unregulated for too long.
Critics of the NGO draft law claim it will regulate the registration and activities of thousands of non-governmental entities across the country and impede their work.
Over the years NGOs have provided vital services and injected billions of dollars in developmental aid to Cambodia’s emerging economy and most have worked closely with the Cambodian government.
Tens of millions of dollars a year have flowed to the poor and marginalised citizens of the Kingdom with some of the world’s biggest NGOs involved in humanitarian work such as Save the Children, Oxfam and CARE represented.
Oxfam was the first international aid agency to work in Cambodia in 1979 and has three separate NGOs giving the worldwide organisation a major presence in the Kingdom with Oxfam Quebec, Oxfam Australia and we also house its American-East Asian regional office.
Its focus here is on livelihoods – the central core of their work in the country -- gender equality, disaster preparedness and campaigning for controls on arms and for fairer trade rules.
Another major international agency with a huge working presence is Save the Children with countries representing and working here for the global organisation including Save the Children Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Japan and South Korea.
The NGOs in Cambodia number in their many hundreds and the areas of aid and responsibility they cover are wide and varied, from small-budget, small-staffed operations to arms of highly funded international operations.
They are involved in every aspect of the life and lifestyle development of the nation, in health and social services, environment, agriculture, infrastructure development, human rights and in the education and training of its children, youth and adults in areas as diverse as the financial sector and even firefighting.
They are here and The Phnom Penh Post wants to know about them and tell you about them, their background, their aims, their achievements, their successes, their plans.
Each month in a special NGO Active supplement we will report the news, the background stories and why these organisations are making a positive difference to the lives of the Cambodian people.
If you are an NGO, work with one, represent one, are involved with one and their work let us know your news, your story. The first Tuesday of every month we will publish our special, comprehensive NGO Active review.
You can contact the section editor, Charles Amery, by email at: [email protected].
We will tell it as it is.