Interior Ministry officials yesterday held a meeting in Phnom Penh to address concerns raised by registered civil society organisations over restrictions to their work by sub-national officials.
“Authorities must facilitate organisations that have been registered at the Interior Ministry and foreign organisations that have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Foreign Affairs Ministry so they can do their activities freely in accordance with the Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations and other legal norms,” Interior Minister Sar Kheng said during the meeting, noting that there are 5,483 registered civil society organisations in the Kingdom.
Despite this repeated message, civil society groups who were present at the meeting expressed their dissatisfaction over a lack of policy consistency at the sub-national level.
Korn Savang, a coordinator with election watchdog Comfrel, said the government has a “white book” where it lists organisations suspected of attempting to overthrow the government through a colour revolution.
“The Interior Ministry has already said that so far, no local NGO has been blacklisted, but we are still in this ‘white book’,” Mr Savang said. “If the government considers us as a partner, why categorise us like this? It will make us feel unsafe when we do our job.”
Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, yesterday said his organisation still faces challenges in the field, despite the ministry’s assurances.
“There are misunderstandings by local authorities regarding our activities,” Mr Sen Karuna said. “When they hear our name, they cause trouble for us in villages.”
“When we hold a workshop some chiefs of villages, communes and districts always ask whether we have legal permission from the provincial authorities, even though we already showed them a legal document from the ministry,” he added. “They don’t want to cooperate with us, that’s why we ask the ministry to intervene. Some provinces are okay, but others are not. I, myself, am prevented from receiving villagers’ complaints by those officials. This is an interference of NGO work.”
Bun Honn, a secretary of state with the ministry, responded to the concerns raised by Mr Sen Karuna and Mr Savang by saying that NGOs should not worry about being accused of being part of a colour revolution if they are innocent and that provincial authorities are open to receiving complaints about sub-national officials.
“If they have enough evidence, they will not allow your Comfrel to continue operating, please don’t worry about this – there is nothing new,” Mr Honn said. “If you have problems, please contact provincial authorities. If they can’t solve your problem, we will accept your request for a resolution.”
After the meeting, Mr Kheng told reporters that some NGOs have been removed from the ministry’s registration list because they either ended their mission or broke Cambodian laws.
“They did not comply with the law,” Mr Kheng said. “We asked them to submit a report, but they didn’t.”
He said an unnamed NGO in Kampong Cham province’s Batheay district had operated as a microfinance institution and defrauded residents. Mr Kheng said police are now investigating the case and looking to arrest its directors.
Mr Kheng said the government has received several complaints from civil society organisations over restrictions by sub-national authorities.
“To solve this issue, we have created the ministerial meeting mechanism, where ministries meet every six months with Provincial Halls and NGOs,” Mr Kheng said.
He noted that through this mechanism, the government has been able to verify each case.
“They said there were 71 cases, but our officials only found six. We don’t know about the other 60 or so cases,” Mr Kheng said.
WATCH: The third forum on partnerships between the Government and Civil Society Organisations is being held at Interior Ministry on Thursday in order express concerns and challenges regarding their operations in the Kingdom. KT/ Ben Sokhean
Posted by Khmer Times on Wednesday, 28 August 2019