Need for Freedom of Information Law Thrown Into Question

An official from the Ministry of Information said Thursday there was no need for a freedom of information law in Cambodia, as citizens already have enough information through the ample number of newspapers and television channels in the country.

Speaking at a conference in Phnom Penh where Unesco and officials from the Swedish Embassy urged the drafting and enactment of a freedom of information law, Secretary of State Thach Phen said that approximately 600 publications and more than 50 radio and television stations were proof that Cambodian citizens already have sufficient access to information.

“How do our Cambodian citizens receive [access to information]? The answer is that freedom of information and freedom of expression and the access to information of the citizens are all defined by the laws,” Mr. Phen said, referring to Article 41 of the Cambodian Constitution, which refers to freedom of expression and not freedom of information.

Television and radio programs are full of “the debate of laws and policies and ideas of the members of Parliament from both ruling and opposition parties,” he continued. “I believe that Cambodians’ access to information is meeting the needs for their rights,” he concluded.

Though Mr. Phen said that freedom to information was already granted to citizens, a draft freedom of information law presented to the National Assembly by the opposition SRP—which was subsequently discarded—and based on other such laws in the region and around the world, granted people access to government documents.

Anne Lemaistre, country representative for Unesco, said a law on freedom of information would promote a culture of openness and accountability.

“Access to information is a crucial element in the efforts to reduce corruption, increase accountability and deepen trust in the government,” she said.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia and a speaker at the workshop, said any such law would be pointless as the government would be unlikely to implement it even if the legislation existed.

Taking the Anti-Corruption Law as an example, Mr. Panha said that the law lacked teeth as the assets government officials have to declare are not made public.

“It’s meaningless,” he said, referring to the Anti-Corruption Law.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that the current government is not ready for a freedom of information law, given the rampant corruption.

“[The ruling party] doesn’t want any contract documents or business deals that they have done illegally put in the open so they are not prepared to adopt this law even though Cambodians have the right to have this law,” he said.

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