Freedom of Information Law Still Unrealized

Almost 10 years since the government first formally announced the need for a freedom of information law, CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said at a conference in Phnom Penh on Wednesday that the ruling party would aim to pass a law next year.

Following a two-hour panel discussion that included opposition lawmaker Son Chhay and legal experts, who discussed the importance of a freedom of information law for fighting corruption and improving public services, the floor was opened to questions.

Mr. Vun stood up from the audience and walked to a podium next to the panelists to address the crowd.

“It is regretful that the 4th legislature did not put in place a law on freedom of information,” Mr. Vun said.

“We left it to the Ministry of Information to do in 2010, then 2012 and now it is 2013 and it has been too long, so the Ministry of Information will push for a draft law…to come out in 2014,” Mr. Vun said.

Mr. Vun said that Mr. Chhay’s proposed draft of a freedom of information law, which Mr. Chhay detailed during the panel discussion and has submitted twice for discussion in the National Assembly, was unconstitutional as it called for an independent commission to review information requests sent to the government.

After promising donors that the government would pass legislation to increase access to information, CPP lawmakers drafted a policy paper on freedom of information in 2007, but it was never sent to the Council of Ministers for review.

Neb Sinthay, director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute, said that he was heartened by comments from Prime Minister Hun Sen in November that a freedom of information law would be passed soon.

Mr. Sinthay, however, noted that the Ministry of Information, which has been charged with drafting the law, failed to show up to deliver its opening remarks at the conference.

“This morning we called to the Minister [Khieu Kanharith], but he assigned another [ministry official], but he was on the way to the hospital, so we understand and accept the reality,” Mr. Sinthay said.

“Even though they [Information Ministry officials] did not come, I am sure the results of the conference will be sent to them and we will continue to work together.”

David Banisar, senior legal counsel at Article 19, a London-based human rights organization that focuses on protecting freedom of information and expression, said that recent political shifts in Cambodia might encourage the government to increase access to information.

“The government may be worried after the elections,” he said, adding that even if the CPP wasn’t serious about efforts to increase government transparency, promoting access to information was still worthwhile.

“Freedom of information happens often in a country where there is a transition. It’s also about setting up that future possibility,” Mr. Banisar said.

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