Lawmakers Say Public Forums Build Democracy

National Assembly President Heng Samrin on Tuesday praised public forums for putting lawmakers in contact with the voting public but said NGOs in Cambodia must remain politically neutral.

“I hope that all NGOs helping to build democracy have good will,” Heng Samrin said a ceremony at which lawmakers were awarded certificates for participating in the National Democratic Institute’s “Constituency Dialogue.”

The four-year-old program convenes regular meetings between members of the three parties seated in Parliament and their constituents, who can query lawmakers about civic matters and complain about the delivery of public services.

Twenty-five lawmakers were present to collect certificates awarded to 62 Assembly members and senators.

In an address, Heng Samrin said the role of all NGOs was not to favor any party.

“They cannot use Cambodia to test their ideologies as during the Cold War,” he said. “I hope that NDI is not biased toward any political party. If NDI can do that, it means NDI is contributing to building democracy.”

NDI Resident Country Director Jerome Cheung said he understood official concerns about

neutrality.

“It is a constant concern of the government. NDI has tried hard to be unbiased. I agreed with him,” he said.

In prepared remarks, Cheung said the Constituency Dialogue had brought almost half of sitting lawmakers in the National Assembly to assist the public with “problems such as a lack of proper roads, bridges, schools, clinics, and irrigation or inadequate public services.”

“Members have intervened to assist constituents with legal problems such as land disputes, illegal logging, illegal fishing and illegal detention,” said Cheung.

Following the ceremony, SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said his party was unconcerned about po­tential bias among NGOs.

“The ruling party fears [foreign NGOs] because they don’t want change,” he said by telephone. “Democratic political parties have no such concern.”

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