CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday lashed out at repeated requests from civil society groups for the government to amend the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO).
In a statement, he said a few civil society groups are dissatisfied with the current law and accuse the government of repressing freedom of expression and violating human rights.
“I think less than one percent of registered associations and NGOs are not happy with the existing law, so they accuse the government of suppressing their activities,” Mr Eysan said. “They were not being transparent about funds being received from foreign donors and how they spend it.”
“Corruption is one of the main reasons why they were not willing to cooperate and report on their activities and finances,” he added. “They want to stay in the dark and point and claim they are upholding democratic principles and protecting human rights as excuse to cover up their activities.”
Mr Eysan said roughly 5,300 associations and NGOs have registered for recognition at the Interior Ministry to operate across the Kingdom, noting that the figure fully reflects the space and freedom that is given to civil society groups.
The LANGO was passed in 2015 with unanimous approval by ruling Cambodian CPP lawmakers, amid a boycott of parliament by the former opposition CNRP.
The law requires about 5,000 domestic and international NGOs that work in the country to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution and shutdowns.
In an effort to address concerns raised by civil society groups, Interior Minister Sar Kheng has organized meetings with top officials from the country’s NGOs twice a year to gather recommendations for national development.
Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, yesterday dismissed Mr Eysan’s statement, saying that NGOs are strictly monitored by international auditing companies.
“All the expenses of NGOs are listed clearly in their reports and donors check them regularly. If givers found any irregularity or corruption, they would sue the groups,” he said. “I think the government should give NGOs space on this.”
Mr Sen Karuna noted that civil society organisations working on the issues of human rights and democracy often meet with unpleasant reactions from the government when compared to groups working on social development.
He called on the government to address concerns raised related to the LANGO rather than making false accusations against them.
Thida Khus, executive director of SILAKA, yesterday said although cooperation between the government and civil society groups improves day-by-day, challenges and difficulties faced due to the law on associations and NGOs must be addressed.
“The law has curtailed the work of civil society groups,” she said. “It’s important to amend a few points of the law.”
Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, yesterday said that cooperation by the authorities in facilitating work carried out by civil society organizations is currently limited due to the law.
“I think during the partnership meeting on January 17, the government and Interior Ministry recognized some issues in implementing the law and agreed to review and amend it,” he said. “We will see how it works.”