In an apparent move towards transparency, the Ministry of Information launched a website where visitors can post opinions and suggestions for a long-awaited freedom of information law, though an observer yesterday cautioned the suggestions will need to be heeded for the initiative to be judged a success.
The website which went live yesterday, www.a2i.info.gov.kh, made in conjunction with UNESCO with support from the Swedish government, features drafts of the upcoming public information law with comment sections where “visitors can write comments or requests for each article”, according to MoI spokesman Ouk Kimseng. The law, which was first proposed over 10 years ago, is expected to be fully drafted by 2018, he said.
According to UNESCO communication specialist Jamie Lee, the site is part of a three-year drafting process between UNESCO, the MoI and Sweden. The collaborative group, known as the A2I Technical Working Group, convenes with public and private organisations monthly to discuss the law, she said.
UNESCO hopes this will serve as “a model for drafting legislation in Cambodia in the future”, said Lee. “So far, it has been a great collaboration.”
“An ideal access to information legislation in Cambodia will promote maximum disclosure and open government; have limited scope for exceptions; and protect whistle-blowers,” she added.
Andreas Johansson, first secretary at the Swedish Embassy, said that while Sweden was “not directly involved in the drafting of the law”, he described his government’s nearly $1 million financial assistance to the drafting process as part of Sweden’s “strong rights-based profile in its support to Cambodia”.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, called the website “a positive and remarkable move given the government’s recent history in withholding drafts of the law”, she said. Sopheap has criticised the government for failing to successfully draft a freedom of information law.
“Yet, for this initiative to truly be meaningful, the feedback must be taken into account in the final version of the law, otherwise it will be meaningless; simply another empty gesture by the government,” said Sopheap.
Parallel to the access to information law, the Interior Ministry has also, since January 2015, been concocting a state secrecy law.
Rights groups have expressed concern at the possibility of the country passing such legislation before a freedom of information law is put into place.