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LANGO discussions end in stalemate

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Ministry of Interior and civil society organisation representatives meet over the controversial LANGO. KT/Tep Sony

The government and members of the civil society organisation met for the sixth and final time yesterday to discuss amendments to the Law on Association and Non-governmental Organisations, which still remains unresolved.

The government working group led by Interior Ministry secretary of state Bun Honn met with representatives of associations and NGOs at the ministry to listen to their feedback.

A joint statement, released after the meeting, said more than 500 associations and NGOs had requested the government to review the amendment of LANGO.

The statement noted that the sixth meeting would be the final one as both sides have reviewed 17 Articles.

Articles 30, 31, 32 and 35, which deal with administrative measures and penalties, have been discussed since the first meeting in November last year.

The statement said the government working group and Interior Ministry are committed to holding discussions on other issues to strengthen the partnership with NGOs.

LANGO was passed in 2015 by CPP lawmakers amid a parliamentary boycott by former opposition CNRP lawmakers, the law was criticised over some Articles which were deemed restrictive.

The law requires nearly 6,000 local and international NGOs working in the Kingdom to register with the government and report on their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution or even closure.

Despite the final meeting yesterday, both sides were unable to reach consensus over the amendments to the law.

The NGOs want the government to have 14 of the 39 Articles amended or abolished, including Articles 24 and 25.

Article 24 states that local or foreign NGOs or foreign associations shall maintain their neutrality with all political parties in the Kingdom while Article 25 stipulates that local NGOs shall submit copies of their annual activities and financial reports to the Ministry of Interior by no later than the end of February of the following year.

Korn Savang, coordinator for election monitor Comfrel, said yesterday that the government working group promised to forward the NGOs’ requests to the Council of Ministers for future consideration.

“We discussed opposition to 17 Articles but finally, we narrowed it down to 14 Articles. We have asked to amend the procedure of registration, submitting reports, taxation issues and punishments which are stated in the LANGO,” he said.

“We consider these procedures as not consistent with the Constitution, including political rights and right to create non-governmental organisations,” Mr Savang said. “We have noted some Articles restricted our actual activities.”

He said local NGOs have complained that local authorities restrict their activities at villages and feel that they cannot fulfil their jobs well as they are under watch.

“Sometimes the local authorities monitor their activities, take their photographs and require them to ask for permission to do their jobs,” he said.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, said the amendment of the LANGO is necessary to promote democracy and good governance.

“This law should not restrict our activities,” he said. “Members of civil society organisations have contributed towards the government’s efforts to reduce poverty, fight corruption and have good governance.”

“We want to see that LANGO is consistent with the Constitution other existing national and international laws including the Civil Code and the International Covenant on [Civil and Political Rights]. If this is fixed, it would encourage people to participate in efforts to strengthen democracy,” he added.

Mr Kim Eng said he wants to see autonomy in the leadership and management of the NGOs and associations. He said the government should open more spaces for NGOs to conduct their activities without restriction.

“If this law is not amended, it would impact the process of national development and investment because some western countries want to see whether NGOs can do their activities freely to ensure accountability, democracy and good governance.”

In response, Mr Honn defended the law, saying the government is working to strengthen the rule of law.

“The government’s stance is based on the 1993 Constitution and we created the law in line with the Constitution and international conventions,” he said.

He cited Article “42 new” of the Constitution which states: “Khmer Citizens shall have the right to establish associations and political parties.”

“These rights shall be determined by law. Khmer citizens may take part in mass organizations for mutual benefit to protect national achievement and social order.”

However, Mr Honn said despite these rights being guaranteed by the law, people must not use their rights to affect the rights of others or public order.

“You [civil society organisations] care more about the benefits for NGOs, but do not care about the benefits of 16 million Cambodians, the nation, and national security as being a priority,” he said. “This law does not belong to NGOs or the government but it belongs to the nation.”

Mr Honn said the government had previously discussed the impact of the law in detail before the draft becomes law.

“This law determines the rights and obligations of NGOs and associations which operate in the Kingdom of Cambodia. If you do not register, what is the use of being an NGO?” he said.

Mr Honn cited Article 9 of the LANGO which said a domestic association or non-governmental organisation shall become a legal entity from the date it is registered by the Ministry of Interior.

“The government always thinks about the partnership with non-governmental organisations, which began since the establishment of the Constitution in 1993,” he said. “You cannot say ‘if the government does not fix this law, then our partnership would not improve’.”

Prak Sam Oeun, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s general administration department, said yesterday the Kingdom’s law is not very different from that of many other countries.

He said Articles 30, 31, 32 and 35 of the LANGO on administrative measures and penalties are related to other Articles making it difficult to amend them.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng in 2018 instructed authorities to collaborate with registered NGOs to ensure that their work is carried out without disturbance or restriction.

In his statement at that time, Mr Kheng said that registered NGOs are authorised to carry out their activities in accordance with the law on associations and NGOs.

Mr Kheng also suggested that registered NGOs inform provincial and ministry authorities should they come across any problems from local authorities while carrying out their work.

However, rights group Adhoc senior investigator Soeng Sen Karuna, who attended yesterday’s meeting, said despite the instruction from the national level, his organisation’s activities at the grassroots level remain restricted.

“The local authorities seem to implement measures which are in contrast with ministry’s instruction,” he said.

Mr Honn said yesterday after the meeting that he will submit a report on issues brought up to Mr Kheng for review before an internal meeting is held later among the government working groups on the next step.



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