Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday accused some civil society organisations (CSOs) of harbouring ill will against the government and falsely claiming that authorities were restricting their activities.
Speaking at the 4th Government-CSOs Partnership Forum, Sar Kheng urged CSOs to work with the government to provide accurate information to the public and address challenges faced by citizens.
In a recently released report, rights group Adhoc said they have witnessed hundreds of cases of political intimidation against CSOs.
Speaking to officials at the national and provincial levels, Sar Kheng said the situation for CSOs in the country is improving and that they face no restrictions on their activities.
During the second half of last year, his ministry received only two reports of intimidation against CSOs (in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces), he said.
“Having thoroughly studied the situation, the Ministry of Interior found that, in general, the work of civil society organisations in the provinces is not restricted.
“Local authorities have apparently learned their lesson and are now better at collaborating with associations and NGOs,” he said.
He said CSOs are playing a more significant role in promoting good governance and human rights, reforming the judiciary, education and public health systems, and protecting the environment.
Sar Kheng said some CSOs have slammed the government for restricting their rights and activities but that these CSOs have never provided any proof to back up their claims.
“I ask CSOs not to hide information. They claim that there are hundreds of cases of oppression and intimidation against CSOs, and I ask: Where is the proof? Where are the details?
“They don’t dare to share specific information. Why? Because they are exaggerating the facts,” Sar Kheng said.
“We can only solve a problem if we know specific details about the case. We have mechanisms at the national and sub-national levels to report this information.
“If civil society organisations conceal information, there is nothing we can do. If they share all information and still the situation is not fixed, then you can blame public officials,” he said.
Despite the CSOs’ uncooperative spirit, the government aims to boost the number of partnerships with them to contribute to national economic growth, Sar Kheng added.
Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna defended his organisation’s findings, saying that the results of the report were accurate. The report was compiled by a working group that studied each case on-site, he claimed.
“We don’t conceal any information from the Ministry of Information. At the local level, we have always collaborated to find a solution in cases where CSOs’ activities have been restricted,” he said, rejecting accusations that Adhoc inflated figures in the report.
He said, in some cases, local authorities may have concealed specific cases of intimidation against CSOs from the national government, fearing punishment from the ministry.
Sen Karuna said he welcomed the ministry’s intention to strengthen partnerships with CSOs.
Sar Kheng said since the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations became effective, 471 associations and 495 NGOs had registered with the Ministry of Interior.
On average, about 20 new associations and NGOs are registered with the ministry every month.