Aid Donors Urge Gov’t To Pass Info, Graft Laws

International donors appealed to the government Tues­day to speed up passage of laws on anticorruption and ac­cess to in­formation, ac­cording to a consensus statement presented at a meeting of the Gov­ernment Develop­ment Partner Co­ordina­tion Committee.

The statement was issued as the donors’ response to Cambodia’s progress on 20 joint monitoring in­dicators, or JMIs, endorsed at the Cambodian Development Coop­eration Forum in December.

“The development partners would like to urge prompt passage of the…anticorruption law,” the statement read. It went on to state that the donors “request that the government share the draft anticorruption law before it moves forward.”

Tuesday’s closed-door committee meeting at the Council for the Develop­ment of Cambodia lasted almost two hours longer than scheduled, and covered the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the global economic crisis, along with the country’s pro­gress on the JMIs, according to an agenda distributed to reporters. Among the other JMIs are goals re­lated to education, health and the environment.

A background paper prepared by the donors stressed the importance of anticorruption legislation to the other development goals. “The JMIs for governance and anticorruption can be seen as a catalyst for all JMIs,” the paper read.

Anticorruption legislation first reached the National Assembly in 1994, but has never been passed.

In August of last year, government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the law had been finalized and would reach the National Assemb­ly shortly, but he confirmed Tues­day that it has been sent back to the Council of Ministers for re-drafting.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached Tuesday to comment on the pro­gress of the anticorruption law.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon at­tended Tuesday’s meeting, and said afterwards that he could not give an estimate for when the law would be ready to send to the As­sembly. He reiterated the government’s position that any anticorruption law must follow the creation of a new penal code.

“We will pass the anticorruption law after the penal law is passed,” Mr Keat Chhon said, adding that both pieces of legislation still needed to go through many steps be­fore reaching the Assembly.

Japanese Ambassador Katsuhi­ro Shinohara left Tuesday’s meeting early, but said donors were al­so awaiting passage of the penal code before discussing anticorruption legislation with officials.

When asked if he was hopeful ei­ther law would be passed in the near future, Mr Shinohara answer­ed, “We are always well-wishing.”

Contacted by telephone after the meeting, German Ambassador Frank Marcus Mann said he was not yet prepared to discuss what progress was made at the meeting. However, when asked about anti­cor­ruption legislation, Mr Mann said, “This was not at the center of today’s discussion.”

The consensus statement also asked the government to explain the slow progress on drafting ac­cess-to-information legislation.

“Not much progress has been made…. Development partners would like to know the status of ac­cess-to-information policy and to understand the impediments to ap­proving the policy,” it read.

Sinthay Neb, a representative to the Freedom of Information Work­ing Group, a collection of local NGOs working with the government on the access-to-information law, said a policy was drafted in 2007. However, he said he had no idea when it would be approved by the Council of Ministers.

“We are trying to meet with the particular government ministries to understand their position right now,” Mr Sinthay Neb said by telephone. “We have spent almost five months trying.”

He explained that an access-to-in­formation law, which would make the majority of government documents available to the public, would push citizens to be more active in democratic processes.

“The more they know, the more it encourages them to participate in the development of the country,” he said.

Mr Khieu Kanharith confirmed Tuesday that an access-to-information law has been drafted, but said other laws must be in place on that law also before it is finalized.

“There are a lot of laws you need first to say what information you can access and what you cannot,” he said, giving insider trading and commercial promotion laws as examples.

However, Mr Sinthay Neb dismissed that reasoning: “We claim that this is a democratic country…. Why not pass an access-to-information law now? The citizens have a right to know about all of the government’s processes.”

The statement also asked the government to avoid forced evictions and enact four laws related to the legal and corrections systems.

Australian Ambassador Marga­ret Adamson and US Ambassador Carol Rodley both left Tuesday’s meeting early, and both declined comment, saying they were late for other engagements. European Commission Charge d’Affaires Do­chao Moreno stayed for the re­mainder of discussions, but said he had no time to comment.

French, US and Australian em­bassy officials did not respond to re­quests for comment on the meeting, nor did representatives from the Swedish International Develop­ment Cooper­ation Agency or the World Bank. UN Resident Coordi­nator Douglas Broderick was away on a mission, and a UN communications officer redirected questions to the World Bank.


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