Government officials have begun to stay away from NGO-organized forums following
a government order October 25 that forbids disagreement with government policy, said
Khmer Institute of Democracy executive director Dr Lao Mong Hay. The order, from
Prime Minister Hun Sen, is meant to protect the country's "peace and solidarity".
"Some government officials, including ministers, have already refused to speak,"
"In a democracy you have to interact with people outside government circles
[and] react to the wishes of civil society."
The order covers participation in conferences, workshops and consultations organized
by NGOs. The order starts with an endorsement of the importance of public discussions:
"In accordance with the democratization policy ... the Royal Government always
supports public forums".
However it then goes on to state that "some people have abused the freedom of
the democratization policy and have intentionally used forums to attack directly
or indirectly the Royal Government and the Nation and exaggerate reality in order
to destroy the solidarity of the country".
Mong Hay said that it was "regrettable" that the Prime Minister had signed
the order and said that it was counter to the government's own policy of decentralization.
"[The order] includes a prohibition on government officials attending meetings
without the Prime Minister's approval. Why should there be approval from the top?"
Mong Hay asked.
The order lists five instructions to "all members of the Royal Government of
Cambodia and all high ranking officers from the members of the [RGC] and all high
ranking officers of the government to the directors of departments of each ministry".
The stated purpose of the order is to strengthen "peace and the solidarity,
reconciliation, democracy and development of the country". Civil servants are
to avoid "providing opinions, concepts that create insecurity and conflicts,
division, non-reconciliation that cause disorder and slants the good subject of the
It also exhorts excellencies to be familiar with government policy on the subject
of the forum and refrain from expressing any "opinion or personal ideas that
could cause the instability of national policy and contradict [the] principle and
policy of the government".