The National Assembly summarily rejected a draft law on freedom of information (FOI) earlier this week, marking the second time in three years that the government has refused to entertain debate over proposed legislation that would compel the government to provide information on matters of public concern.
The law outlines the legal procedures that would be put in place to require public officials to divulge information that is requested by private or public entities.
In the proposed law, put forward by SRP parliamentarians, government offices and private institutions would have 15 days to respond to requests for information. A request can only be denied if it is successfully argued in front of an “information court” that disclosure would threaten national security or damage commercial interests.
The government would also be required to declassify documents within 25 years of their drafting.
If individuals refuse to divulge requested information, they could be fined up to 10 million riel, or about $2,500, and could also face imprisonment for up to two years.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said on Thursday that the proposed law was unconstitutional—as it creates a judicial body with oversight equal to the Appeal Court and the king—and would impose additional financial strain on the government, requiring it to allocate funds from the national budget.
“Because the national budget comes from taxes, that means [the freedom of information regulating body] adds more burden to the people,” Mr. Vun said by way of explanation for rejecting an FOI law.
SRP parliamentarian Yim Sovann, who defended the proposed law during a meeting at the National Assembly on Tuesday, said that opposition lawmakers would have been willing to make concessions to get the law passed, but that Mr. Vun and his ruling party colleagues tossed it out without consideration.
“If they find weak points, we can agree to make amendments,” said Mr. Sovann. “The problem is not a technical issue. It is a political issue.”
Mr. Vun, however, said that the law was not even worthy of debate.
“The law looks like ordinary text that is translated or written by an individual or organization. It is not formatted correctly and the wording is wrong.” Mr. Vun said.
Mr. Vun suggested that rather than drafting a new FOI law, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith should consider making the government’s 2007 information policy a law.
But according to Mr. Sovann, the government’s information policy has no mechanisms to hold officials accountable for failure to disclose information.