As the only finalist in its category at Thursday’s Cambodia Information and Communications Technology awards, the Commerce Ministry looks likely to take home first prize for its newly overhauled website.
But two months after the website went live, not everyone is singing its praises.
One of the old site’s more useful tools was its searchable company database, which allowed users to pull up the name of any company registered with the ministry and find information on its chairman, shareholders, share transfers and location.
Now, however, the company search feature has been stripped down to a bare-bones state that reveals only a company’s name, director and, sometimes, a phone number.
In a statement set to be released this morning, human rights group Licadho said the ministry’s apparent step backward on transparency was “disappointing.”
“In this day and age, there is no reason for the government not to offer a fully accessible and searchable companies register,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge said in the statement.
“While advocates around the world are calling for greater transparency by states and governments, Cambodia perversely chose to take action to reduce the amount of information to which the public has access,” she added.
The group said it sent a written request to the ministry on May 27 asking for an explanation, but had not received a response.
Since Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol was promoted to his position after the disputed elections in 2013, he has promised to clean up Cambodia’s image of being a corrupt and opaque place to do business.
“The way that we conduct our business before cannot and will not survive when Cambodia becomes a member of the AEC,” Mr. Chanthol said in March, referring to the Asean Economic Community, an initiative to promote regional economic integration set to begin at the end of the year.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said that in order to live up to that pledge, the ministry should once again make company information available to the public.
“It’s a concern if the Ministry of Commerce is not able to put back the information,” he said.
In early May, Commerce Ministry spokesman Ken Ratha said in email that an IT team was working to restore the company search database as soon as possible.
“[T]he reason that the company data is less than before [is] because we are moving the new website base to the new exclusive server,” he wrote. “Once it is completely moved…the public will be able to access for more updated company information.”
Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Ratha said the ministry was still trying to complete the website.
“You should have no doubt about this,” he said in a text message.
Heang Sotheayuth, a public relations officer at the ministry, said Wednesday that information is not intentionally being kept from the public.
“If we wanted to hide something, we would hide everything,” he said. “We try our best because we want a new website that looks better and is better for the user.”
Javier Sola—an IT expert working with human rights groups and the government—said the ministry’s explanation was plausible.
“I’m not sure if they would have an interest in hiding things,” he said. “And I’d assume it would take some time to start from zero and get everything running.”
He added, however, that connecting a database to a website was a simple task.
“They might have, at this point, made some minimal efforts to do that,” he said.