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NGOs slammed over retraction refusal

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
The Government Spokesmen Unit meets with the NGOs last week. KT/Siv Channa

The government yesterday slammed rights group Licadho and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut for refusing to attend a scheduled meeting and make a public statement retracting a critical report on the negative impacts of microloans.

Last week, the two NGOs defended their research during a meeting with the Government Spokespersons Unit. They were summoned again to retract their report, but they have each issued statements refusing to appear.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said their refusal to attend the meeting is a reflection of non-cooperation, noting that their statements were unethical.

“It is a reflection of how the NGOs have no intention to cooperate or want to be a partner of the government, even though [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng considers the NGOs as partners of the government,” he said. “They are playing the victim.”

Mr Siphan said the report severely affected the government’s achievements in developing the country.

“I have noted their comments, and their report was baseless and inaccurate,” he said. “Their [report] was concluded based on fake news.”

“We do not want to respond to them via the media. We want to talk to them directly,” he said. “We had a plan to invite experts to explain to them, which they should have accepted. We hope their next report will respect the real concerns of the people and be accurate.”

The two NGOs were scheduled to meet with the Government Spokesman Unit in Phnom Penh today following the first meeting on September 4.

Seang Muoylay, a representative of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said in a letter to the government yesterday that his organisation already provided enough clarification in the previous meeting.

“In the meeting, our representatives already explained our report,” he said. “Our management understands and fully accepts the outcome and stance that were raised during that meeting.”

“So, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut wishes to inform that we will not go to attend [today’s] meeting because we have no further explanations to give and we wish to uphold our previous explanation from our representative as well,” he added.

Kong Socheat, a representative of Licadho, said his organisation wishes to uphold the statement made in the meeting on September 4 and it will not attend the second meeting.

“Licadho wishes to inform His Excellency that our management wishes to uphold the previous explanation made by Licadho representatives, and we have nothing more to explain,” Mr Socheat said. “The Licadho management wishes to apologise in advance because we will not attend the following meeting as scheduled.”

During the meeting on September 4, representatives of both NGOs stated that they stand by the report and its methodology, and urged the government to take measures in order to prevent future human rights violations.

The report by Licadho and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut featured seven case studies of abuse chosen from 28 microfinance institution clients.

According to the report, two million Cambodians held a total of $8 billion in outstanding microloans. It said the amount is equal to about one-third of the Kingdom’s GDP.

Mr Siphan also slammed Transparency International’s Preap Kol, who is currently overseas, for excusing himself from a meeting scheduled for today to clarify quotes published by Southeast Asia Globe, in which he said “the majority of Cambodian people, especially those who are poor or disadvantaged, are not ideally benefiting from the impressive economic growth.”

Mr Siphan said what Mr Kol stated was not a reflection of the truth.

“His statement was fake news. It does not reflect the truth and has an intention to attack against access to information and mislead the public,” he said. “What he said was not the truth, which is why we invited him to answer directly.”

In an email, Mr Kol said his comments were protected under “freedom of expression”.

He noted he will return later this month and would be happy to interact with any concerned institution as needed.

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