Phnom Penh Municipal Hall and civil society organisations on Tuesday held a consultation forum with the theme Development Partnership with non-Governmental organisations (NGOs), the first such meeting this year.
Around 700 people from various state institutions and 50 civil society organisations attended the forum, although some organisations and associations active in human rights, election monitoring and advocacy work were absent.
Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng said such a forum served as a mechanism to address differences between authorities and civil society organisations.
Civil society organisations, Sreng said, have contributed significantly to Cambodia’s development in nearly all sectors and authorities were not intent on restricting their rights and freedoms. He said he had instructed local authorities at all levels to ensure they can carry out their activities without restriction or discrimination.
“Some 728 organisations in Phnom Penh have been carrying out their activities without any obstruction. Figures show that the number of associations and non-governmental organisations has not decreased as claimed by some individuals who always point the finger at the government and local authorities,” he said.
However, Khuong Sreng acknowledged that there was a lack of mutual understanding before such forums were initiated.
At Tuesday’s meeting, eight officials from various civil society organisations raised the issues of, among others, unnecessary bureaucracy at the local level and the restriction of rights and freedoms.
Deth Bunthon, secretary-general of the Young People’s Christian Association, urged authorities to address such issues.
“Everything we have brought up is pressing and needs to be addressed. We have faced difficulties dealing with complicated bureaucracy at local administrations. At commune level, for example, even a request to form an ageing people’s community has been rejected. After this forum, I hope local authorities will help facilitate our work,” he said.
Soeung Sen Karuna, spokesman for rights group Adhoc, welcomed the forum, although he said Adhoc and some other civil society organisations had not been invited.
“The forum should have been better organised. Some organisations working on human rights, election monitoring and other advocacy work were not invited because they have been known to criticise the government. Organising the forum this way, I think the municipal hall has failed to demonstrate its good will and sincerity,” he said.
Phnom Penh deputy governor Keut Chhe rebuffed Sen Karuna’s claims. He said the forum was non-partisan and was held regardless of political affiliation and without discrimination.
He said it was the civil society organisations that had failed to register their names for the forum.
Chhe said, however, that the municipal hall would allocate more time for registration to avoid accusations of forums being biased.