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NGOs want access law to be adopted sooner

Ry Sochan / Khmer Times Share:
Huy Saravuth, Information Ministry secretary of state, delivers a speech yesterday. KT/Mai Vireak

To mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information yesterday, 20 NGOs insisted the access to information law should be adopted soon, as the draft law is reportedly expected to be submitted to the Council of Ministers shortly.

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Huy Saravuth, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Information, announced yesterday that the draft law on access to information will be finalised by the end of this year.

It has been more than 15 years since the government acknowledged the need for access to information law.

The NGOs said in a joint statement yesterday that access to information is an essential condition of good governance and democratic participation on the national and subnational level.

“Only well-informed citizens can meaningfully have a say in decision-making processes which concern them. And only if documents and data are made public can journalists effectively monitor the activity of the government bodies, rather than speculating about it,” the statement said.

The draft for the access to information law was first released in 2018 and has been updated numerous times after discussions led by the Ministry of Information.

“Currently, this lengthy process is approaching its end, and it is hopefully only a matter of days or weeks before the draft is finally submitted to the Council of Ministers for approval,” the statement said.

The statement said legal experts and representatives of local Civil Society Organisations have repeatedly pointed out that the draft is still not clear enough on what constitutes public information.

“In our opinion, this term should refer to any and all kinds of documents or data in the possession of public bodies or publicly funded private institutions, unless a particular piece of information falls in the category of an exception explicitly mentioned in the law,” it said.

It said in its current form, the draft is restricting this definition to “official documents” held by the national and subnational administration.

“It also contains a blanket provision under which the category of confidential information can be extended indefinitely, in the absence of a general presumption that all information is public unless explicitly labelled as secret,” said the statement.

Transparency International Cambodia executive director Pech Pisey said at the event to release the joint statement that access to information is the strengthening of citizen’s power which pushes for the government to have accountability, transparency and responsibility as public service providers.

“This law can contribute to enhancing citizens’ power to demand social accountability, in particular in fighting corruption,” he said.

“When citizens are knowledgeable, they can participate in more social affairs. Fighting corruption will not be done effectively if we do not have laws with international standards and clear principles,” Pisey said.

Advocacy and Policy Institute (API) Executive Director Lam Socheat told Khmer Times yesterday that the law is important as it is the freedom of citizens and journalists to gain information from public institutions.

He said the national economy could recover shortly after the COVID-19 crisis as long as good governance and transparency are improved to allow investors access to information.

“The law would be more supremely beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic as citizens need information on health, investment, and public and private development,” Socheat said.

Socheat said the citizens need the right to access information to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. They need transparency and accountability in managing the COVID-19 budget and national rule, as well as investments.

“We want the Office of the Council of Ministers, National Assembly, and Senate to adopt the law shortly and improve it when the draft law is submitted by the Technical Working Group on the Drafting of the Access to Information Law,” he said.

The Ministry of Information Spokesmen Meas Sophorn and Phos Sovann could not be reached for comments yesterday.

“Regardless of who we are, from where we are, access to information is crucial to face COVID-19. In times of emergency, and always, citizens have the right to be informed and prevent risks,” said the United Nations in Cambodia in a statement yesterday.

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