Cambodia’s first Civil Society Day was held on Tuesday, with at least 300 members of civil society groups in attendance at Phnom Penh’s Hotel Cambodiana for the event.
Held under the theme Inclusive Partnership for Democratic and Sustainable Development, the day is intended to enable civil society groups to share their experiences.
The Ministry of Interior will also conduct a census of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and associations in April to gather accurate figures as to their numbers.
Sin Putheary, head of communications and member development at the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) – a leading membership organisation with nearly 170 local and international NGOs – said the aim is for Civil Society Day to be an annual forum for groups to come together to discuss good governance and human rights protection.
“The forum is also for responding to developmental trends and strengthening cooperation among partner civil society organisations and the government,” she said.
Ministry figures show that 5,386 groups – of which 2,135 are NGOs – and 3,251 associations have registered in Cambodia since 1993. Of these, only around 2,000 fulfilled their 2016-17 obligations.
Bun Hun, Ministry of Interior secretary of state, on Tuesday said that only 499 organisations and associations had provided financial reports and yearly planning to the ministry, even though it has twice spoken on the matter.
Hun said the ministry had agreed with the CCC to carry out the census of associations and NGOs that have submitted documents and registered with the ministry. The census was intended to again review the number of civil society groups operating in Cambodia.
“We want to find the true figure and not an inflated number, because some organisations after being established do not carry out any activities whatsoever."
“When we carry out the census, we will review it and discuss to find solutions first, because we do not want to take hot measures against them [associations and NGOs] that will mislead one another,” he said.
The CCC’s Putheary said the census of the associations and NGOs will start in April, with a working group informing them nationwide to ensure their cooperation.
“Because the number of associations and NGOs has likely increased, we need cooperation this year to take data on the true number of such organisations,” she said.
Net Chenda, Organisation to Improve Communication and Swallowing Therapy Services in Cambodia (OIC) executive director, said such a census would be useful if it intended to aid groups in carrying out their work, but she expressed concerns.
“If this census is aimed to help serve the interests of civil society organisations in their work then I applaud the move. But I am concerned the census could lead to pressure being put on them. I hope the government has no intention to do so and has strategies in place to help civil society organisations because they have provided a lot of benefit to people,” Chenda said.