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Speed up FOI law, PM says

An internet user reads political commentary on Facebook in Phnom Penh
An internet user reads political commentary on Facebook in Phnom Penh yesterday. Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged the Ministry of Information to begin drafting a freedom of information law on Friday. SCOTT HOWES

Speed up FOI law, PM says

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the Ministry of Information to accelerate the drafting of a long-awaited freedom of information law that could see more transparency in the Kingdom’s government.

According to a press release issued by the Council of Ministers after a cabinet meeting on Friday, Hun Sen asked the ministry to host a forum with journalists, civil society groups and other relevant stakeholders to help draft the law.

He also urged ministers and officials to abide by an inter-ministerial prakas signed into effect last year to appoint media officers and spokespeople in all government institutions.

Freedom of information laws have long been called for by civil society groups and legal experts, with the former Sam Rainsy Party having prepared several drafts that were rejected by the National Assembly.

Monitors have said that such laws could help crack down on corruption.

Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that previous freedom of information laws drafted by the opposition had been rejected “for political reasons”.

“Before we submitted the draft to the National Assembly, we talked to the UN, civil society and all the stakeholders because we wanted the law to meet international standards,” he said.

“Everyone has to have access to public documents, [including] ordinary citizens, not only the press and political leaders.… [There should be] nothing to hide except for national security.”

Sovann added that the opposition would not comment on the government’s decision to consult for a new draft law as any law approved by the current parliament – which his party is boycotting – should be considered “illegitimate”.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that the draft law could be “similar” to such laws in the West.

Civil society groups welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement with caution.

“I want the law on access to information to be approved, [but] the process of approval of this law must involve participation from the public and civil society,” said Pa Nguon Teang, director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media. “And when [civil society] gives ideas, the government must apply that [to the law]. They should not act as in the past, allowing civil society groups to give recommendations but [then] not accepting them.

"The government always makes laws to protect the government and not laws to protect the public interest.”

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