National Archive on its Way Amid Controversy

The National Assembly on Tues­day passed the first part of a law that would establish a national ar­chive amid opposition criticism that the leg­islation allowed too much leeway for the government to keep information in the archive secret un­der the rubric of national security.

Some lawmakers also lamented that the archives would be located with­in the Council of Ministers building instead of somewhere more easily accessible to the public.

“This law is useless,” opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said, explaining it does not make enough information available to the public. The problem, he argued, is that the law does not define “national defense,” “national security,” nor what kind of information might be classified in order to protect both entities.

The net effect, he claimed, was a massive loophole for corruption.

“The swapping of state land, should that be secret?” he asked, explaining that the archive law, as currently written, could allow information on land swaps and government contracts to remain secret.

But Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu Sorn, who defended the law repeatedly Tuesday, disagreed, directly attacking Son Chhay.

“Don’t just say the law is useless,” he scolded, accusing Son Chhay of stoking partisan fires. “Don’t talk so politically.”

Chea Sophorn, secretary of state for the Council of Minister, also de­fended the law.

“Concerns about corruption led to the drafting of the law,” he said. “It will help fight corruption.”

Chea Sophorn denied the ar­chive law was partisan but said some information, such as that on pet­roleum projects, interior security and foreign affairs would be dan­ger­ous to re­lease to the public.

CPP lawmaker Ek Sam Ol concurred. “The right to information does not cover everything,” he said, arguing that censoring some information was simply common sense. “The archive cannot be open like a public library, it would be anarchy.”

None of the law’s defenders would say whether information on land swaps would become public if the law were passed.

One Funcinpec lawmaker also criticized the planned location of the archive at the Council of Ministers.

“The archive should be located someplace that is more easily ac­cessible to the public,” Princess Sis­­o­­wath Santa said.

The draft of the law states that those caught stealing, damaging or illegally releasing information from the archive could be fined $500 to $12,500 or imprisoned for 6 months to 30 years.

The remainder of the archive law is expected to be passed this week.

 

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