Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has instructed Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min to accept input from the public and civil society organisations and create a working group to receive their requests and complaints.
Speaking at the provincial hall on Monday, Sar Kheng said addressing public concerns through various mechanisms including public forums is vital to social development.
“I think such a public forum is really useful. We should heed citizens’ opinions. It may allow some participants to raise opinions that are political in nature, but I believe most citizens will raise genuine concerns that we must address.
“For opinions that are political in nature, you just have to address them accordingly. But you have to take peoples’ genuine concerns seriously when they sincerely raise such issues as water and electricity shortages, miscarriages of justice, robberies, drugs and other problems,” he said.
“I have previously advised Yun Min to meet with non-governmental organisations through such a [sub-national] forum. At the national level, we have already held them twice. There should be a working group to receive their requests and enquiries so we can regularly address issues with NGOs.”
Sar Kheng said such a mechanism could help reduce misunderstandings among authorities, NGOs and citizens.
“If we just keep fighting without understanding each other, problems cannot be solved. Our [country] is a democracy so we should be willing to accept conflicting ideas. Public opinions may contradict our thinking or policies but we still need to take them seriously. Sometimes their ideas are correct and ours are wrong,” he said.
Citing Min’s previous forum with more than 10 civil society organisations, Sar Kheng pointed out that politically motivated criticism from some NGOs was inevitable and urged the governor to liaise with them through the proposed working group.
“Please continue [public forums] and set up a working group [based] at the provincial hall. Assign a few officials to do it on top of their existing tasks. If NGOs have any issues, they can communicate with us directly through this channel instead of speaking out in public. We’ve experienced this before,” he said.
Sar Kheng said such a mechanism would enable NGOs to enjoy more effective roles as government partners.
‘We need to heed public opinion’
“By law, civil society organisations and the government complement each other as partners,” he said.
The interior minister urged authorities at all levels to reach out to people across the country. He said such forums are crucial to social development as they enable policymakers to integrate public input into national policies.
“If we just sit drafting policies in a room, it wouldn’t work. It doesn’t respond to the people’s wishes. Our country is a multi-party democracy so we need to heed public opinion. Whatever our people want, we need to deliver accordingly,” he said.
Soeung Sen Karuna, spokesman for rights group Adhoc, applauded Sar Kheng’s remarks.
“Rarely have we received such attention from the top leadership. They have taken things seriously recently and have even reached out to the grassroots,” he said.
However, Sen Karuna said sub-national authorities tended to act only after receiving instruction from superiors.
“[Interior Minister] Sar Kheng is aware of this and that is why he made field visits to spur local authorities into action, to remind them that civil society organisations are government partners,” he said.
Min, the provincial governor, could not be reached by The Post for comment on Tuesday.