Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn on Tuesday called on all foreign NGOs to avoid at all costs activities which could be associated or linked to money laundering, financing of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

He said this was critical in order to avoid negative effects on the financial system, investment flows and political sentiment in Cambodia.

Sokhonn made the call at the Consultation Meeting with Foreign Non-governmental Organisations which is aimed at promoting and strengthening cooperation, determining challenges and identifying appropriate solutions to effectively strengthen the enforcement of laws and regulations.

The inaugural meeting, attended by 300 representatives of organisations and communities, was held at the ministry. Sokhonn also called on all foreign NGOs to carry out their financial transactions only through banks licensed by the National Bank of Cambodia.

“I urge all foreign NGOs to operate in accordance with the legal framework and in compliance with the regulatory requirements that are in force."

“Furthermore, please avoid at all costs activities which could be associated with or linked to money laundering, financing of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction as stipulated by the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, so that you can avoid falling into its grey list and prevent any negative effect on the Cambodian financial system, investment flows and political sentiments,” he stressed.

On the meeting itself, he said: “This forum will serve as a chance for all relevant parties to jointly determine the challenges and identify appropriate solutions in order to enhance enforcement of the laws and regulations that uphold the rule of law.”

Sokhonn said the government fully recognised the concerns of some development partners and civil society organisations with regard to their rights and freedom to operate at local levels in the context of the new Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (Lango) which came into force this month.

“But in my view, only a clearly defined legal basis and regulatory framework which are firm pillars can support our long-term cooperation with harmony and success,” he said.

Sokhonn said such a foundation will promote and strengthen cooperation between the government and foreign NGOs to serve and protect the best interests of the country and people.

He said Lango was enacted to protect the freedom and rights to form associations and NGOs in Cambodia and it also aims to defend the legal rights and interests of those aided by NGOs as well as those of the public.

“The law also helps to enhance partnerships and cooperation between associations and NGOs with public authorities so that we can together develop our society and bring about progress in all fields,” he said.

Edith Van Wijngaarden, Humanity & Inclusion in Cambodia director, which works on disability issues in the Kingdom, said while she could not confirm her organisation’s budget spend, she had raised some problems for discussion at the meeting.

She said such discussions with the relevant parties will provide opportunities for all to jointly find, report and determine challenges in order to identify the appropriate solutions and effectively enforce Cambodian laws and regulations.

“In fact, my organisation does not have many problems in carrying out our work, but we do have some issues that can be resolved. I have raised those at the meeting, but I cannot discuss them openly,” she said, citing confidentiality.

Roberto Pavetto, a Don Bosco School and Organisation representative who also attended the meeting, said he supports consultation because it will provide an opportunity for relevant parties to discuss the problems they face when carrying out their missions.

He said his organisation is working on technical education and other sectors and is not involved in politics.

“My organisation does not work with politics or human rights. We teach young people new skills and knowledge to enhance their careers. I do not have any problems with authorities or the law. Our only problem is that we are short of money,” he said.

As of December last year, there are 386 foreign NGOs with a valid memorandum of understanding.

The foreign NGOs are from various countries across Asia, America, Europe and Australia and operate in sectors such as education, health, social affairs, agriculture, vocational training, community development, environment and mine action.

Kin Phea, the International Relations Institute of the Royal Academy of Cambodia director-general said: “Some organisations and associations, that have been opened, have goals and visions to serve the Cambodian people."

“We need to accept and appreciate their good work and give them due respect. At the same time, we have to be careful of those NGOs that have bad intentions.”