The government’s proposed NGO draft law is a barrier to effective aid and development, civil society organizations said yesterday during a workshop in Phnom Penh focused on compiling a report on Cambodia’s climate for NGOs ahead of a global forum on aid effectiveness to be held in South Korea on Nov 29.
“We need a mutual understanding with the government because, at the present time, we [civil society organizations] are not considered friends. In fact, to be frank, we are considered enemies,” said Kann Kunthy, general manager of social NGO Digital Data Divide.
“We need to be able to provide input on the NGO draft law…. It needs to be a participatory process because it will affect everybody,” he said.
Lun Borithy, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), said on the sidelines of the workshop, that the proposed NGO law is only one of the many factors plaguing the country’s development.
“If there is no right to freedom of expression, no right to gather and demonstrate, and no right to participate…the country will never effectively develop,” Mr Borithy said, adding that he is appealing to the government not to allow the draft law restrict NGOs’ activities.
The NGO draft law has been widely criticized by rights groups as too restrictive. The government says it needs the law to properly regulate the sector, but NGOs fear, among other things, that the government will be able to use the law to dissolve a group without citing reasons.
Another concern voiced was the postponement of the top-level cooperation forum between the government and its foreign donors, which is normally held every 18 months and allows donors to assess progress on development targets and to pledge more money to Cambodia’s development. The meeting was originally scheduled for November but was canceled by the government until “a later date,” according to an Aug 17 letter to the World Bank from Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
Soeung Saroeun, CCC’s head of programs, said that the date of the meeting is still undetermined.
While summing up all the NGOs’ concerns regarding barriers to aid effectiveness, Mr Saroeun also listed the lack of social space to publicly demonstrate or gather, and the fact that aid tends to be donor-driven instead of being beneficial to local communities’ concerns.