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Officials’ affairs may be secret under law

Officials’ affairs may be secret under law

Any information that is damaging to Cambodia’s national security or public order, affects its relationship with other countries or threatens the Kingdom’s economy or finances could be withheld from the public under a draft law on access to information.

The provisions on “confidential information” are included in the updated version of the access to information law, currently being drafted by the Ministry of Information together with a coalition of 15 institutions including UNESCO.

In the second of two recently released chapters, the ministry sets out what information requests may be refused by public institutions, listing material affecting the confidentiality of private lives, including those of public servants, with “health issues and commercial disputes” given as examples.

Any disclosure endangering law enforcement agencies and their missions or that is harmful to “other prohibitive provisions relating to confidential information” could also be excluded.

The provisions, however, are “too broad”, said political analyst and think tank head Ou Virak.

“They’re probably covering almost all of the important information we need from the government,” he added.

“If the government really wanted to it could use any of them or a combination, and they don’t have to give public information.”

While declining to talk about specifics with the bill still being written, Cambodian Centre for Independent Media executive director Pa Nguon Teang warned that a successful law would need to narrowly and specifically define which types of information would be considered confidential.

“We cannot have a law that allows the government to label all information it does not want released as ‘top secret’,” Teang said.

According to the draft, a response to a request should take five days, while the information should be delivered within 20 days, with delays not exceeding another 20 days after that. A fee based on the “market rate” would be charged, it notes.

Secretary general of the Club of Cambodian Journalists Puy Kea said there also needed to be punishments for those officials who breached the legislation and failed to provide information.

The Ministry of Information’s Ouk Kimseng said discussions would continue to make the legislation, which has been in the works since 2007 and is slated to be finalised within three years, acceptable to all stakeholders.

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