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Freedom of Information Law Needed: Parliamentarian

Sun Chhay is a member of parliament of Sam Rainsy Party in Cambodia.
Sun Chhay is a member of parliament of Sam Rainsy Party in Cambodia.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay told “Hello VOA” Thursday that people lack freedom of information to evaluate government policies. The development of natural resources or the spending of ministries are not open to the public, he said.

“The government has sold and managed the nation secretly,” he said. “What we call in simple language, acting in darkness. That’s why it causes huge impacts to the national interest.”

Son Chhay is drafting a bill to provide freedom of information that he hopes to put before the National Assembly soon.

Ninety-nine-year concessions, gold mines, ticket sales to Angkor Wat, drilling rights, the sale of offshore islands—all of these should be a matter of public record, he said. Smaller details of governance too should be open, he said: construction costs, road projects, ID cards, affairs of state.

That would also include the courts, which would give documents over for investigations.

Secrets make people doubtful, he said.

That’s especially true for development plans, which have led to ongoing clashes between residents, developers, security forces and government officials, in large part due to their lack of transparency, he said.

“Without this law, the government has always classified every document, and every decision on national affairs is secret,” he said. Under his draft, he said, some documentation would remain classified, such as within the Ministry of Defense, although some political figures would have the right to see them.

Improved transparency is now a must, he said, because the government hopes to have a stock market. Without it, “nobody will come to buy stocks,” he said.

Ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yiep said Thursday the National Assembly must scrutinize the draft and compare it to laws already on the books. “There should not be two laws overlapping,” he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government is working toward more freedom of information but has to ensure the right documents are kept confidential and that information is used responsibly by the media and other parties.