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Law on ‘Right to Information’ Remains Stalled

Cambodian journalists gathered at a media conference in Cambodia, file photo.
Cambodian journalists gathered at a media conference in Cambodia, file photo.
PHNOM PENH - A law that would provide for access to government information by journalists and the public has been nearly 10 years in the making, but critics say it has stalled in the legislative process.

The government acknowledged a need for the law back in 2004, but a draft of the law was not begun until 2007, and a draft has yet to make its way to the Council of Ministers for approval for parliamentary debate.

At a conference last week, supporters of the law said it needs to move faster, to curb corruption and increase government transparency.

Pa Ngoun Teang, general director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said all kinds of information remain unavailable to the public, including information on investment, government income and expenditures and national resources development.

“Journalists cannot access such information from these public institutions,” he said. “For example, we want to ask about companies to which the government gives licenses for investment, their countries of origin, types and capital for investment. We are unable to access this information.”

Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and head of the National Assembly’s finance committee, acknowledged the need for the law, but he said the government needs more time to pass it.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party pushed for the law in the National Assembly in 2010 and 2012, but the recommendation was rejected each time by the CPP-dominated Assembly without debate.

Yim Sovann, an SRP lawmaker, said their proposed legislation had been made with consultations with local and international NGOs, but there was no political will to see it passed.

“The CPP does not want this law to pass, because it would be a very effective tool to combat corruption,” he told VOA Khmer. “So they say they will pass it, but it’s already been 10 years. And when we propose the law, they say it lacks this and that, and when we asked for improvements, they did not accept it. So that means they don’t want the law to be passed.”

Neb Sinthay, director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute, said he recognizes the importance for policy frameworks, but he said the government should move forward with its draft law. “What we’ve discussed since 2004, it’s enough to move toward discussion on the law, but the government is just focusing on the policy framework now.”

Pa Ngoun Teang said faster movement on the law will require more public engagement and understanding of the law, along with mobilization and support from international donors.