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Govt to seek 'input' on NGO law

Govt to seek 'input' on NGO law

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090203_04.jpg

The author of the draft law tightening NGO funding restrictions says civil society concerns will be taken into account before its passing, but rights groups remain unconvinced.

Photo by:
MOM KUNTHEAR

NGOs run a variety of programs in Cambodia, including this hand-washing day last year. 

THE government has vowed to include nongovernmental organisations in the consultation process for drafting new legislation regulating their activities, but this has done little to assuage the fears of civil society groups who see the impending law as a threat, government and NGO officials say.

"We have the draft legislation in our hands. We are in the process of sending the legislation out to NGOs asking them for their views," said Sieng Lapresse, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.

As the government official in charge of organising the new law, Sieng Lapresse said that after NGOs have had an opportunity to review the document, the government would meet with them to discuss their concerns.

"We will hold a seminar and ask NGOs to contribute, but the final legislation will be determined by the government," he said.

If passed, the bill is expected to require all NGO funding to pass through the Ministry of Economy and Finance in an attempt to prevent terrorist groups acting as, or financially supporting, such groups.

Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, told the Post he believed the legislation would be a disaster for local NGOs.

"This will delay NGO operations and restrict them," he said. "Money cannot go through the ministry because we would not be willing to pay a bribe to ensure we get our money."

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the independence NGOs currently cherish could be in jeopardy if the draft legislation were enacted.

"I hope we don't go bankrupt. We must not criticise the government because, if we do, maybe we will get no funds," he said.

One particular concern is the restriction on NGOs from partaking in any activity serving the interest of a political organisation, which Sok Sam Oeun labelled an attempt by the government to muzzle criticism.

"We do not understand what is meant by political interest," he said, adding that it could potentially allow anyone who is a member of a political party to take an NGO to court for speaking out against them.

Ou Virak said the nature of NGO work was to express political views and ensure the rights of Cambodians are protected.

"They say NGOs cannot be involved in politics," he said. "But politics is about pushing for better policy or direction, and this is what NGOs do."

Sieng Lapresse said claims that it was an attempt to control NGOs were merely the "opinion of some".

The NGO law, first proposed in 1995 by the Council of Ministers, is set to enter the National Assembly before the anticipated penal code and anti-corruption bills, with Sieng Lapresse saying NGO legislation was a "priority" for the government.

But Ou Virak said that if the government needs an anti-terrorism law, it should pass it.

"The law is always changing ... it was to control NGOs ... but now they are using terrorism," he said. "We need a comprehensive anti-terrorism law, not an anti-NGO law."

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