In a wide-ranging speech lasting a marathon 4 hours and 30 minutes, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday unveiled his government’s plan for the next five years, which includes reigning in non-governmental organizations, developing the energy sector by tapping oil and eyeing nuclear power, and adopting an anticorruption law.
In a speech broadcast live on national TV, Hun Sen accused unnamed NGOs of being “workers for foreigners” and of attempting to dictate policy.
“Some NGOs or civil society groups are attempting to play roles that are above the heads of the National Assembly, Senate and the government…. You are not the representatives of the people. We are the representatives that the people elected,” Hun Sen said in his address to the first Council of Ministers meeting of the newly sworn in fourth mandate government, held at the Foreign Ministry.
The NGO sector is untamed, rife with internal fighting and must be regulated, Hun Sen said, adding that the government will now move to adopt a law to control the flow of finances to local NGOs. Adopting a law to control the cash flow to NGOs is crucial in the fight against terrorism, Hun Sen added.
“NGOs demand others to respect the law, but when we said we are going to adopt this law, they shout right away…. They talk about transparency and accountability for income, but where do those NGOs get their money from, and for what?” Hun Sen asked.
“Some terrorism organizations hide behind this sign and that sign, and they conduct terrorism. Terrorism funds can come through some NGOs like the Om Alqura [Institute] that we arrested here and closed,” he said, referring to the Saudi-funded Kandal province school for Cham Muslims that was shut down from 2003 to 2004 after staff members were arrested over alleged links to al-Qaida.
Turning to energy, Hun Sen said the government wants to reduce reliance on foreign oil while at the same time starting to export oil that is believed to be beneath Cambodia’s offshore waters. He also said critics should not worry about management of the country’s potential oil wealth.
“Previously, [foreigners] came to give us opinions about how to spend the money while it is still under the seabed. But now I have cleaned their brains. Sometimes, not all long-noses or foreigners are knowledgeable and smart, and we have to bear an independent stance,” Hun Sen added.
Noting that an increase in population and homes will increasingly burden the country’s electricity grid, Hun Sen said the government will expand electric generation with hydroelectric and coal-fired plants, and possibly with a nuclear power plant in the future.
It is still “a long distance away for us, but this is our goal,” Hun Sen said of his nuclear energy plans.
Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy Secretary of State Ith Praing said Friday that the government is only considering nuclear power.
“It is just an initiative, we don’t know if we will have it or not,” he said by telephone.
Hun Sen also detailed in his speech how from 2003 to 2008 his CPP-controlled government passed 140 laws and reforms to the judicial system, and said his government has “the will” to pass an anticorruption law once the Assembly completes the criminal procedure code.
Sek Barisoth, director of the NGO PACT Cambodia’s anti-corruption program, which has an ongoing campaign for the government to pass a law on anticorruption, said he welcomed the government’s expressed will to adopt an anticorruption law.
“I have heard it many times already…. We are happy and ask that it would come true,” he said by telephone Friday.
An anticorruption draft law has been meandering through the offices of government for 14 years.
Commenting on the proposed law to regulate NGO funding, Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid group Cambodian Defenders Project, said that NGOs are open about their income sources and expenditures.
A law on NGO financing is not necessarily “good or bad,” said Sok Sam Oeun; its nature will be determined by whether it limits NGOs in their work.