A senior Ministry of Information official gave three reasons for the slow progress towards the adoption of the draft law on access to information, while officials continue working to expedite the process and win approval.

At a press conference held to discuss its five-year achievements, held at the Council of Ministers on September 1, ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn said a technical team from his ministry had already expedited the completion of consultations with relevant institutions.

Sophorn listed three reasons for the slow progress. First, the draft law is still receiving input from stakeholders and the ministry must prepare it in accordance with legal procedures. Second, the law must be drafted on the basis of its national and international obligations and in line with international laws and standards or regulatory documents in force.

“We have discussed this a lot with the Ministry of Justice about ensuring that the law is enforced with a penalty appropriate to the gravity of the offence but not in excess of that. We need to make sure that the law is in line with the existing Criminal Code to avoid creating excessive new penalties in this access to information law," he said.

Third, he elaborated, the slow movement towards adoption was also caused by Covid-19. At the early stages of the pandemic, the ministries, relevant institutions and other stakeholders needed to spend time together doing tasks like developing new work schedules and timetables.

He said that, so far, the draft law has already been discussed at the technical level and a few points will still be examined and decided upon based on the recommendations of the justice and information ministries.

“We reiterate that we remain committed to finalising this draft law at consultative meetings with relevant partners. We will expedite and urge the submission and approval of this draft law as soon as possible," he said.

Sophorn explained that the draft law was created in the interests of the general public as well as potentially being helpful to the foreigners who are always asking for information, as it is not just for journalists.

"The process of drafting this law needs to be discussed, studied and researched so that it will be in line with the socio-political context, national and international obligations and also to bring this law in line with the procedures and standards of Cambodia.

"The drafting of this law has aroused a lot of concerns leading to a series of consultations. To this day, there continue to be political consultations held on the law, so it is taking a while to get approval.

“Cambodia has yet to pass this law, but if you look at the ASEAN region as a whole, Cambodia will not be the last country to have this law in place. After this law is passed, Cambodia will be the fifth country to have enacted this type of law on access to information," he said.

Sophorn added that some other ASEAN countries have not yet even considered having such a law, while Cambodia is also considering incorporating cyber-security into national security law.

"[The information ministry] is not preventing this law from being finalised. We are still continuing to push for the passage of this access to information law," he emphasised.

Nop Vy, executive director of the Cambodian Journalists Alliance (CamboJa), said the law is currently in the hands of the ministry, and civil society groups like his own were mostly unaware of any progress made thus far.

“CSOs asked that our input and proposals as listed in the documents we have sent to the ministry and the head of the government for deliberation be included in this draft law. This includes consideration of the content of some articles of the current draft law, especially articles regarding confidential information," he added.

On June 16, a group of 33 CSOs urged intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen to expedite the draft law.

The information ministry, meanwhile, claims to be accelerating the process with additional review meeting slated to take place soon.