Draft NGO Law Reaches National Assembly

The draft of a controversial law proposing to regulate the country’s sprawling NGO sector has arrived at the National Assembly, where a spokesman said it would likely be put up for public discussion before a vote.

NGOs, who fear the ruling CPP will use the law to silence its critics, had hoped that the government would discuss the draft before it reached parliament.

The Council of Ministers, however, endorsed the draft on June 5. But it held off on sending it on to the National Assembly in order to make a few changes, including the removal of a pair of articles, one of which would have limited the share of their budgets that foreign NGOs could spend on overhead to 25 percent.

On Tuesday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the updated draft was sent to the Assembly last week.

“Now the law is in the hands of the National Assembly, so it’s parliament’s prerogative to decide,” he said. “The government hopes the National Assembly will pass it soon.”

Assembly spokesman and CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun confirmed the draft’s arrival and said the body’s permanent committee would convene soon to decide which parliamentary commissions to ask for input.

Mr. Vun said lawmakers were likely to invite NGOs to comment on the new draft some time next week, after the cremation of the body of late Senate President Chea Sim, who died on June 8.

“It’s pretty certain that we will hold a workshop to discuss the law, because we have had many workshops to collect input,” he said.

The last time NGOs had a chance to publicly discuss the law with officials was when an earlier draft was released in 2011, shortly before Prime Minister Hun Sen shelved it amid heavy criticism of the plan both at home and abroad.

At the time, NGOs complained that vague and overly broad provisions would give the government new powers to shut down groups with little explanation. Those same NGOs say the new version approved earlier this month is even worse, adding a vague demand for political neutrality, more restrictive conditions on who can register an NGO, and generally flouting their constitutional right to the freedom of association.

The government disagrees and says it needs the law to make sure NGOs are not sneaking money into the country from terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

The U.N. and U.S. have publicly urged the government to reconsider whether Cambodia needs the law, drawing accusations of political interference from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Outgoing European Union (E.U.) Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain also discussed the law in a private meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday morning.

In a statement, the E.U.’s Phnom Penh office said the ambassador told Mr. Hun Sen that he hoped any law passed by the Assembly would not hinder the work of the NGOs in the country.

“The E.U. has expressed its concern several times on the need to hold consultations with stakeholders which will be most affected by this law,” it said.

“Therefore, during this meeting the E.U. ambassador was pleased to hear from the [prime minister] that the National Assembly was planning to hold a consultation on the draft NGO law.”

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

naren@cambodiadaily.com

© 2015, All rights reserved.