Governors want more involvement in NGO projects going on within their borders, Kratie Governor Loy Sophat said last week during a conference for provincial and municipal leaders on rural development.
“We should establish the mechanism for sharing between NGOs and provincial governors,” he said.
Loy Sophat was spokesman for the governors during the conference dubbed “Enhancing Rural Livelihoods: Strategies and Policies that Work for the Poor.” The group asked for the law mandating NGO and government collaboration during Wednesday’s closing session of the seminar.
In doing so they’ve breathed new life into a draft law that was proposed in 1996 to establish legal mandates for NGOs.
“In the past, information sharing was not conducted well. Any organization that had a project could do anything they wanted, even if provincial governors did not have information,” he said.
The draft law was originally intended to regulate how non-governmental organizations operate in Cambodia and spell out which organizations could operate under NGO status.
The Ministry of Interior was responsible for writing the law but it never moved beyond the draft stage because of too much opposition from NGOs, said Sak Setha, director of the ministry’s General Administration Department.
Now provincial governors have dusted off the law, claiming they should have a hand in, or at least information about, NGO projects.
“The provincial governors don’t know how to work with NGOs,” said Ok Serei Sopheak, coordinator for Cambodia Development Resource Institute, an NGO that sponsored the three-day conference along with the Interior Ministry.
“It’s time that we need to make projects together, not have NGOs make projects and take them to the provinces,” he said, summing up the governors’ comments during the seminar. “NGOs and provinces have to share information at all levels.”
Some in Cambodia’s growing NGO community, which according to the Interior Ministry consists of 1,500 groups, become a bit uneasy when the government starts talking about an NGO law.
“Some NGOs feel nervous about the prospect of an NGO law because they’re afraid that it may not be drafted fairly,” said Russell Peterson of NGO Forum on Cambodia.
But that doesn’t mean a law regarding NGOs couldn’t be developed for the good of both the government and the nonprofit sector, he said.
“For the NGO law to provide an appropriate and enabling environment to be useful to the NGOs and the government, there needs to be a broad coalition to ensure it meets the needs” of both sides, Peterson said.
Star Kampuchea, an NGO that promotes government transparency, supports legislation that spells out the types of organizations able to claim NGO status, but not one that defines how NGOs and government should collaborate.
“If there is a law that would control NGOs, we don’t want such a law,” said Nheak Sarin, director of Star Kampuchea. “We have found some NGOs that used the name of NGO but are actually businesses. The law should make clear what is an NGO and what is not and NGO,” he said. “We need a good law.”