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Civil society groups slam Samrin circular

Civil society groups slam Samrin circular

Thirteen prominent civil society organisations yesterday said that a controversial circular issued by National Assembly president Heng Samrin on September 12 violates principles of democracy and transparency, along with the constitution and internal assembly regulations.

The circular stipulates that parliamentary commissions – half of which are now led by the opposition party – must ask permission from Samrin to meet with practically any outsiders in the assembly compound, are not allowed to open the questioning of government officials to media or civil society, and need to go through the prime minister via Samrin to summon ministers.

The NGOs, which include umbrella body the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, Transparency International and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, say Samrin has no legal right to issue such circulars regulating commissions.

He has been accused of giving himself “CEO-like” powers and liberally interpreting the assembly’s internal regulations to reduce the clout that commissions have to hold the government to account.

On September 17, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron was questioned by the education commission on his reform efforts, but nine representatives from NGOs and international organisations, including UNESCO, were “barred from attending”, the groups say.

“It is clear that this circular has made the debate between the commissions and ministers or government not transparent and not public,” they said in a statement, adding that it violated citizens’ access to information rights.

“I very much regret that the Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers are afraid of dialogue as a tool to solve the problems of the nation,” CCHR chairman Ou Virak said at a press conference yesterday.

But Lork Kheng, a CPP lawmaker and deputy chair of the human rights commission, said the circular was “in accordance with the internal regulations and with the consensus of all commissions”.

“I do not think that it is wrong and lawmakers from the two parties have been smoothly working together to resolve problems for people, especially my first commission,” she said.

The opposition has said it will challenge the circular.

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