Thursday, 2 October 2008

Govt's proposed NGO regulation law overkill: civil society

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea and Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 01 October 2008

Rights groups brand the PM's proposed NGO Law "unnecessary", saying terrorism and fraud can be solved through more effective means

OPPOSITION lawmakers and local rights groups have criticised the government's proposed introduction of tighter regulations for non-government organisations, saying the restrictions go beyond what is needed to ensure accountability in the NGO sector.

Addressing the first meeting of the new cabinet Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the government plans to pass a law regulating the operation of local and international NGOs in Cambodia.

"We have to know the sources of [NGO] funds," Hun Sen said. "We are concerned that their funding could come from terrorist groups."

The Ministry of Interior originally drafted the Local Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations Law in 2006, and it is expected to be passed soon by the new CPP-dominated government.

Over-regulation

Lawmakers contacted by the Post agreed there was a need for the government to weed out fraudulent NGOs, but said this goal could be achieved through other means.

"I support the government wanting to receive reports and information from NGOs, but if they are creating a law to control NGO budgets this would not conform to democratic principles," said Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua. If the government is worried about terrorism, she added, it should order the relevant ministries to increase their readiness rather then constraining NGOs.

" We are concerned that their funding could come from terrorist groups. "

Ngy San, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum, said his personal view was that some degree of regulation was necessary, but that its extent should be the subject of debate. "There should be some regulation of the sector," he said. "But what should be the content of the law?"

But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the necessary laws were already in place, citing the long-awaited Anti-Corruption Law and other criminal legislation."

The NGO environment is not perfect. Some NGOs are using land concessions for profit, but the solution is not to make things difficult for all NGOs. The root of the problem is that government officials are benefiting from these deals," he said. "If you pass an anti-corruption law, you prevent your own government from doing these things."

Ou Virak added that errant NGOs were no justification for the promulgation of a new law. "The root cause is not civil society. It is NGOs that have some link to people high up in the government," he said. "It makes you wonder where the priorities lie for the new government. The solution is going to be much worse than the problem."

Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, agreed that the government had more pressing concerns than tightening its grip on NGOs. "The government should create laws against corruption, conditional laws for [the appointment of] independent judges and laws to resolve land disputes," he said.

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