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Interior Ministry Orders CENTRAL To Furnish Bank Details in 30 Days After Criticism Over Report

Union representatives submit a petition to the Ministry of Interior against CENTRAL’s report on June 14, 2024. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)
Union representatives submit a petition to the Ministry of Interior against CENTRAL’s report on June 14, 2024. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)

The Ministry of Interior has ordered Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) to disclose its bank account details within 30 days of the date of the letter, failing which they could face non-compliance and legal action in accordance with Article 30 of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations.

“In case CENTRAL failed to fulfill its obligations, it is subject to legal actions in accordance with the law and other existing laws,” the statement read.

The notification by the ministry stated that it received complaints and statements from various unions, federations and associations in relation to CENTRAL’s report titled Barriers to Representation: Freedom of Association in Cambodia, which was criticized for being “biased and unfair”. They also mentioned that a “minority assessment of the overall situation does not reflect the reality of trade union freedom in Cambodia”. In addition, the report allegedly “dishonored the nation”, and “affected job stability” and the common interests of workers in Cambodia.

The ministry reminded CENTRAL that in accordance with Article 30 of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, CENTRAL must abide  by its own statutes stored at the ministry.

Quoting the letter, Interior Ministry spokesperson Touch Sokhak told CamboJA News that Article 10 of the law states that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are duty-bound to provide bank details to the ministry.

“So, what the ministry has [instructed] is based on the law. It is not against the law. However, CENTRAL’s annual report to the ministry is a different matter,” said Sokhak.

He said the ministry did not arrange a team to observe the NGO, but was only following the law on non-governmental organizations. 

Moeun Tola, executive director of the CENTRAL, confirmed receiving the letter from the ministry and its 30-day deadline for bank information to be disclosed.

He said CENTRAL submitted its reports to the ministry every year, however they currently sought for the bank information. The NGO would “send it again” as nothing has changed regarding the account information.

“The strange thing is why the ministry wants it again [bank details]. For CENTRAL, we will send the report or bank information to the ministry again, because in the letter it says that if we do not send the information within 30 days, we will face the law,” Tola said. 

Normally, NGOs send their reports to the ministry at the end of February every year. The reports include bank statements. Even “when they want to change bank accounts”, they need to inform the ministry, Am Sam Ath, operation director of Licadho, said.

Last week, 44 local organizations, including Licadho, published a joint statement “disagreeing” with the calls made by the public for a ministerial investigation into the finances and operation of CENTRAL.

“So, when we talk about bank accounts, each NGO complies [with the rules of the ministry]. Regarding bank information, CENTRAL did not have anything new or changed [anything] because they had already sent it. All organizations have auditors to ensure transparency,” he added.

He also mentioned that if other unions disagreed with CENTRAL’s report, they should conduct a new research or case study to show that the report did not represent the situation in Cambodia.

“The most important thing is that all sides want to highlight workers’ rights and freedom of unions. So, they should find a middle ground to talk and discuss rather than sue each other, as it is not looking good [now],” said Sam Ath.

About 10 members of the Confederation Union of Cambodia Bright Workers gathered last week to file a petition with the US Embassy in Cambodia, calling on the country director of USAID to consider providing funds to CENTRAL. They also asked USAID to advise CENTRAL to act transparently.

At the same time, Cambodia Worker’s Right Protection Union Confederation (CWPUC) filed a complaint against CENTRAL program manager Khun Tharo in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 27.

According to a complaint sent by CWPUC to a prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday, Tharo is alleged to have uttered the words “use fake unions to attack independent unions and use fake youths or civil societies to attack youths and independent civil society”.

CWPUC requested the prosecutor to review and decide on the legal action while demanding that Tharo pay a compensation of 100 million riel ($25,000) to CWPUC, which will be donated to Kantha Bopha Hospital.

Confederation Union of Cambodia Bright Workers general secretary Sea Kunthea declined to comment when CamboJA News contacted via phone and Telegram.