The National Assembly’s refusal to release the minutes of its Feb 3 session that saw three lawmakers stripped of their immunity is another example of the government’s growing lack of transparency, observers said Wednesday.
“Parliament refuses the flow of information without reason and with no explanation,” said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections. “People need to realize it’s not just this case but many cases.”
In a letter to the Sam Rainsy Party dated April 22, Assembly Secretary-General Kim San wrote that the Assembly’s permanent committee could not release the minutes from the Feb 3 closed-door session because they belong “to the National Assembly.”
“It’s not a national security secret,” Koul Panha said. “It’s not just the Sam Rainsy Party but the public has the right to see it.”
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said by refusing to make the minutes public, it raises questions about whether the minutes have been made to official standards or even whether they exist.
“I think there may be no report,” she said. “Or maybe by looking at the minutes, they can see flaws.”
This, she said, could prove invaluable in any court case contesting the vote that led to the arrest of opposition parliamentarian Cheam Chhany and forced opposition leader Sam Rainsy and lawmaker Chea Poch to flee overseas.
Assembly First Vice-President Heng Samrin said he didn’t feel there was any need to release the minutes of the meeting to the public or anyone else.
“It is the National Assembly principle,” Heng Samrin said. “The Sam Rainsy Party know all about the [immunity] issue because they were present for the meeting.”
Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann said withholding the minutes was not the Assembly’s policy. He said the minutes are always kept in the Assembly’s library, and this is the first time they have not been made available. “Every member of parliament has the right to access the minutes,” he said.