Dozens of civil society groups marched to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s office on Thursday, where they submitted a petition urging him to complete the long-delayed draft Law on Access to Information and send it to the National Assembly for approval.
The draft legislation, which is intended to give the public access to government records and documents, has been delayed for years, and has been criticized for the government’s attempts to limit its scope. Hun Sen said the legislation would be passed last year, and a draft was finalized in August, but has not been taken up by parliament.
Kong Chamroeun, from the Prime Minister’s office, accepted the petition and said he will forward it to the top leaders.
The letter also called on the government to consider input from civil society groups, including the deletion of an article requiring 40 days to pass before a repeat request can be made for recently released information. The organizations also want revisions to eight more articles, including one which is meant to protect whistleblowers.
Lam Socheat, director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute, said that the Law on Access to Information is vital for members of the public who want to access information necessary for making informed decisions.
“This law ensures the people have the right to access information, including journalists and state institutions…and it would enhance public participation, transparency and good governance,” he said.
“People should be able to access the information they want without restrictions like a 40-day waiting period before a repeat request,” Mr. Socheat said, noting that in 2020 Prime Minister Hun Sen himself said the draft law should be adopted as soon as possible.
“We hope the government will consider the input of civil society groups for additions to the law, including to speed up its approval,” he said.
However, he added, “if the draft law fails to add input from civil society, we are worried the quality of law will not meet international standards.”
Soeng Senkaruna, senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, also stressed how important the law, known as the A2I law, is.
“In Cambodia it is very complicated to find information, especially for journalists who find it difficult to get information from government officials,” he said.
“When there is a Law on Access to Information, those officials will have an obligation to provide information,” Mr. Senkaruna said, adding the law would make development projects transparent.
“If those people have to hide information, it means they have violated the law, so that is why we really need to have this law [A2I]” he said.
Information Ministry spokesman, Meas Sophorn, said that the draft Law on Access to Information had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and said that the ministry had also taken the time to widely consult civil society groups and other stakeholders.
“However, it does not mean our Information Ministry has given up this draft law, we still remain committed to an effort to get it approved,” Mr. Sophorn said.
He said the Ministry will have a final meeting with the Justice ministry before sending the draft law to the Office of the Council of Ministers and National Assembly for approval.
“We hope that the draft Law on Access to Information will be approved soon,” he said, noting Cambodia is not the only country in ASEAN that doesn’t yet have a law on access to information.