PM Adviser: Access to Information Can Aid Terror

Democracy thrives through free­dom of information, but so can threats to state security, a senior gov­ernment official told a conference in Phnom Penh on Monday or­ganized to debate the issue of greater access to public information in Cambodia.

“Democracy breathes information [to survive] and so does terrorism,” Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said at the conference sponsored by the Euro­pean Community and attended by government officials and representatives of international organizations and NGOs.

Allowing the public access to in­formation could undermine national security, infringe on the privacy of individuals—such as their medical records—and pry into the in­ternal workings of private companies, Om Yentieng added.

“Please check all the aspects of en­larging freedom of access to public information. Terrorists also need information,” he said.

Access to information should first start with the majority of Cam­bodians, Om Yentieng said, adding that it should focus on those who cannot read or do not have radios and TVs.

“Access to public information should not benefit only one group of people or foreigners,” he said.

Om Yentieng’s comments were made in response to participants who advocated greater access to pub­lic information as a means to in­­crease government accountability, transparency and to fight corruption.

Luitgard Hammerer, of the UK-based Article 19 organization, which champions freedom of ex­pression and the free flow of information, said that greater access to public information would benefit Cambodia by saving money through reduced cor­ruption and in­­creased public trust in the gov­ern­ment.

Nisha Agrawal, World Bank country representative, said that 50 countries have passed public information laws and, as an example of in­formation access, demonstrated the World Bank’s Web site.

But opposition lawmaker Son Ch­hay challenged Ag­rawal noting that she had not res­ponded to his re­quests for the names of the companies involved in the military de­mobilization scandal which resulted in the government last year re­paying the World Bank $2.8 million in mis­used funds.

Agrawal replied that such information should have been sought from the government.



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