Discussion Workshop on the Draft Law on Associations and NGOs in Cambodia
On Monday, 10 January, 2011; The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation jointly organized a discussion workshop to discuss on the recently draft law aiming to govern the domestic associations and NGOs and International Organizations operating in the country. The workshop was conducted at Hotel Cambodiana Phnom Penh. More than 200 participants representing governments’ ministries, the embassies, local NGOs and associations, IOs, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), journalists were invited to join the discussion. Most of them were present until the end of the workshop.
The draft law was initially prepared by the working group consisting of the officials from Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The draft was finalized on 1 December 2010. The date of the consultation workshop was firstly proposed by the Ministry of Interior on 28 December 2010. But, due to urgent requests from local associations, NGOs and IOs the date was postponed to 10 January 2011.
The consultation workshop officially began at 8:30 am and was presided over by the Minister of Interior, H.E. Sar Kheng and lasted until 5:45 pm. The Minister made opening remarks by thanking to Civil Society Organizations and IOs and stressing their valuable contributions to the development of all sectors in Cambodia; from rural development, health to good governance and democracy. He emphasized that this law is very much in need due to:
- Cambodian constitution, chapter 3, article 42
- Royal Government’s Policy 2008-2013
- Rectangular Strategy phase 2
- Promote the active participation of CSOs and IOs in development process
- Urgent needs to have a law governing scope of works implemented by different stakeholders/actors
Time (2 Hours) was allocated for the presentation of the draft law by H.E. Mr. Nuth Sa An, Secretary of State of MOI; 2 Hours were allocated for group discussions, around 2 Hours for group works presentation, discussion and wrap up. It is important to note that NGOs Networks such as Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, NGO Forum on Cambodia, Medicam, Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) and others have organized numerous meetings with its members discussing on the content of the draft law and made joint statement, practical suggestions and recommendations sent to concerned ministries in advance. These four membership organizations are representing more than 400 local and international NGOs working in Cambodia. However, the time was too short for wide range of involvements, especially grassroots organizations. There was an open request to the government to prolong the period of public consultation, so that more inputs will be collected and that the law could be promulgated to serve all people involved and Cambodia as such.
During the meeting, the time for discussion was too short (2 Hours) and the group was too big (around 40-50 persons/group). Participants were divided into 4 groups, 3 for Cambodian Organizations/Institutions and one group for IOs/INGOs. It was a biggest group discussion I ever have attended. There was some clarifications provided by the ministries’ officials concerning controversial terms and articles, which contribute to better understanding between NGOs and government. NGOs and IOs were able to provide comments, concerns and suggestions/recommendations both in written and oral format to the concerned ministries according to each article, since they have prepared in advance those comments during earlier meetings to discuss on the draft law. Those comments/suggestions were formally received, but how far the government is willing to change is not clear yet. Some important points are as follows:
- Clarification on the definitions and the scope of the law
- Not mandatory, but voluntary registration
- Delegation of power to the commune level for the registration of CBOs
- Founding members of associations should be lower that 21 as stated in the draft. 3-5 would be good
- Gender issues
- Duration of registration and rejection
- Documents for registration’s requirement
- Procedure to complaint to independent body in the case of registration denied by MOI
- Registration fee, low or free
- Foreign personals as founding members
- The needs to send notification letters to MOI concerning change of staff
- Reporting and auditing procedures and deadline to send report to MOI or MOFA (from January to April)
- Rephrase or abolish some of the unnecessary articles
- Ratio of admin and program costs of IOs and INGOs, from 25% to 30% or above
- Glossary as attachment to the law
All Associations, NGOs and IOs requested for more time to discuss on the draft law and their representatives to be included in the working group to continue working on the draft. The Secretary of State promised to bring this request to talk to the higher level, but at the same time warned that PM Hun Sen has requested earlier, that the draft law must be finalized and discussed with the concerned associations, NGOs/IOs and other stakeholders within 2010.
To me: it was good opportunity to all of us to contribute our main concerns to the draft law, though the time period given was short. The prospect for substantial changes and the continued consultation process of civil society organizations/NGOs with government is rather grim. We have done what we could do. Let’s hope that our government is sincere enough in implementing the main concept in chapter 3, article 42 of our constitution: “Khmer Citizens have the rights to establish associations…”and can work freely for the benefits of all Cambodians. It is estimated that the fund disbursed for activities of NGOs/INGOs/IOs is around 200 million USD per year.