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Cambodian Civil Society: Challenges and Prospects

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Khmer Rouge Soldiers (Taekwonweirdo/Flickr)

Let me, perhaps in conclusion, let me raise some of the prospects of the role of civil society, also maybe raising one or two issues of the role of international community. I would say first prospect, I think it’s going to be very critical that we have to continue to monitor is the current draft law on civil society, or NGO. We hope that this draft law will not be draconian, that it will be more liberal. And I think it will be more liberal because there are a lot of actors who want to see that this draft law will help Cambodia, not to hurt Cambodia. And I think there is some sincerity on the government’s part that the draft law will be consulted with civil society organizations, like the current process of PRSP (Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper)that has been asked by The World Bank and the IMF to do. And I think the PRSP has been consulted heavily with the civil society organizations. So I think the draft law is going to be very critical too, an important trend to look at.

Second, I think we have to look at how the relationship between civil society and government will continue to evolve. Particularly, hopefully, there will be a transformation from suspicion and mistrust to a more effective partnership between the government and civil society. We have to look--we have to go beyond public statements and so on and so forth. Third, I think it is very important also, we have to look at how the sustainable situation is. I think it would be good if civil society organizations would more or less team up, working together in alliances rather than continue to be fragmented, isolated and scattered. I think it’s very important.

Let me also touch on the last part and that is on the role of the international community. I think it’s very critical for Cambodia that there will be a sustained commitment on the part of the international community for Cambodia. I think, given the fact that so much has been invested already in the reconstruction and the development of Cambodia. And I think if the international community would withdraw too fast, too quickly, it would undermine the current development and reform process in this country. At the same time, I think the role of the international community would be very important to continue to push for a greater and more concrete reform agenda in Cambodia and I think in so doing, supporting a more open society in this country. Thank you so much.

Questions and Answer Session

Nick Platt

Thank you. Thank you for that very comprehensive review. We’re going to now open this to the group here for questions. I’m going to ask people to raise their hands and then to identify themselves and to ask their questions. And the rule is one question per customer. But I’d like to ask the first one if I might. And it deals with the question of coordinating the efforts of the civil society organizations in Cambodia. But is there any mechanism that coordinates their activities? Is there any role that the international community can play in coordinating or setting up a mechanism that could coordinate those activities?

HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh

I think that it was a weak point, what we talk about conditionalities. One, I’m very concerned that activities of the NGOs and actors of the civil society in Cambodia depend on fact of the foreign assistance funding. And when donors would like to make some coordination with the proposed, and to make some pressure to the government to respect, I think that it’s not working at all the conditionality because there is lack of coordination among the donors themselves before we go to NGOs in Cambodia as actors of civil society. I think they need more consultation between and among the donors. One of the future, uncertain future of the actors of the civil society in Cambodia is linked to the funding problem. So I think, yes, from Cambodian side, now we can see some tendencies into a grouping. And Kao Kim Hourn will give you some details. Yes, Cambodian actors of civil society have a tendency now to be grouping. Of course they are specialized in different arenas-human rights NGOs--my institute is more focused on civil society, the good governance example--but there is a tendency to naturally meet each other and try and come and stand on this. It is not yet a national mechanism in terms of coordination. So in conclusion, I think we need first that the donors who provide funds to assist us in civil society activities must be coordinated among themselves. And come back to the national level, it must be a national mechanism among the civil society actors.

Dr. Kao Kim Hourn

Thank you very much. I think this is one of the key proposals that have been put forward already by the government, that the government has been saying--the government has a lot of difficult times to communicate with civil society organizations because there are so many of them. So the idea right now that there would be what we call a government-civil society forum. And I think the idea, of course, is to coordinate between the government and civil society and to build a partnership. And I think the idea, of course, is that civil society actors will have to--organization--will have to team up in forming the alliances, networks. I think coordination doesn’t always lead to effectiveness, you know. I think that is very clear. Also coordination doesn’t always lead to good governance. I think particularly on the donor side, no donor would like to be coordinated even among themselves. But the idea, I think I agree with you, that yes it is very important that if the donors, particularly they would have a big project, for example and then ask a number of civil society organizations to work together on a particular project. And the idea is, of course, rather than have small project and then you split up and everything, is to have a more solid project and then you have the combined efforts of civil society. For example, on election issue, you might have one big project on election and then ask all the NGOs in Cambodia to work on election to come and work together on that particular project. I think that’s one way of working, one possible way of working together.

The other thing I think is important is, perhaps there will be important if those NGOs working on different issues, they have to come together and build up this group, you know, maybe a working group on whatever--on environment, on human rights, on election--so there’s a wide range. But of course there have been already emerging of these groups already. But I think it’s still too early to assess whether these working groups are effective or not.