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NGOs call for speedy passage of information freedom law

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Cambodian People's Party press conference on the official results of the Parliamentary Election for the 6th Legislature 2018 in Phnom Penh on August 16. Heng Chivoan

NGOs call for speedy passage of information freedom law

A group of 19 non-governmental organisations and associations have urged the Kingdom’s legislative and executive bodies to expedite the passage of a draft law on freedom of information, which the group said had been delayed for years.

The group sent separate letters to Senate President Say Chhum, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith.

The group said the promulgation of the Law on Rights to Information is necessary to promote good governance and access to information.

Lam Socheat, the director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute (API) and representative of the 19 NGOs and associations, said the law will not only guarantee citizens’ right to information as enshrined in the constitution but will also spur state institutions to action.

“The law will prompt public institutions to fulfil their obligation with more efficiency, transparency and accountability. It will especially reduce classified information to the minimum and ensure active and effective public participation in politics, the economy and social and cultural issues,” he said.

Ministry of Information spokesman Meas Sophorn told The Post on Sunday that discussions on the draft law among civil society, public and technical groups has already been wrapped-up and that an inter-ministerial review of the draft law will begin in the near future.

“The ministry is determined to have a law acceptable to everyone, while input from civil society organisations is being processed.

“I wish to confirm that having the draft law processed and passed has long been the intention of the government, which is keen to promote the public’s freedom of expression and press freedom. Therefore, we request relevant parties to let the ministry review and prepare the drafting process,” he said.

Sophorn did not give a specific timeframe for the law’s adoption.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan told The Post the government is determined to have the law passed. In the meantime, he said, the government is preparing itself for when the law eventually takes effect.

“We are improving the ability of information officers and spokespeople. This is an important thing . . . they are being trained correctly,” he said, adding how soon the bill will be passed depends on relevant ministries.

National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long told The Post on Sunday that while the legislative body had yet to receive a letter from the group, it is ready to review the law in the public interest.

“Our country is a democracy and we will do our best to help it develop with the adoption of all laws. I believe that other countries also have the Law on Rights to Information and Cambodia will work on this to strengthen democracy,” he said.

During his third annual meeting with journalists last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his support and assurance to have the Law on Rights to Information in the government’s sixth mandate.

The prime minister first instructed the Ministry of Information to engage stakeholders in the draft law discussion on August 8, 2013.

Cambodia Institute for Media Studies director Moeun Chhean Narith said the relevant parties, including the government, public, and especially journalists, stand to gain substantial benefits from a speedy passage of the law.

He said the law will help the parties to jointly fight against fake news in the digital era where it spreads quickly on the internet.

“For lawmakers, if they are willing to have the law, they can have it immediately. But we don’t blame them either because the current political context dissuades them. Even if the draft law was adopted, the government and National Assembly would still be occupied with dealing with the current political situation first.

“So I think when the current political situation gets better, the government will expedite the adoption of this law,” he said.

Long Kimmarita

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