Few NGOs compliant with law

Source: Phnom Penh Post

Activists and NGO members march in 2015 to protest against the controversial Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. Heng Chivoan

Thousands of organisations have failed to meet the deadline for filing their financial reports under the controversial Law on Associations and NGOs (Lango), according to a ministry official.

Chhim Kan, director of the Interior Ministry’s Department of Associations and Political Parties, said that of the total 5,199 associations and NGOs registered with the ministry, just 621 had submitted any documentation.

Lango came into force in 2015 and was met with criticism by international and local organisations, who feared it could curtail freedom of speech and the activities of legitimate NGOs. New filing requirements – which include annual and financial reports – were imposed this year, with a September 30 deadline.

Kan said just 196 associations and 425 NGOs had filed before the deadline, despite what he described as clear requirements. “The law already defines what they need to fill in,” he said.

But some NGO representatives reached by The Post seemed hazy about the process.

You Leak, project manager at the NGO Cambodian Farmer Economic Development, said the organisation hadn’t submitted any documents because they thought they should submit them at the end of the year along with their annual report.

“We want to send all of them all at once,” he said. “I asked other partner NGOs and they also said they’ll send them all at once.”

Meas Chanthan, executive director of Cooperation for Social Services and Development, said he thought they didn’t have to submit any documents because his organisation doesn’t receive any donor funds. “If we have no funds . . . how can we have information to submit to the ministry?” he asked.

The Interior Ministry’s Kan yesterday promised consequences for failing to submit reports but said noncompliant organisations would still be allowed to operate. “There is administrative punishment for violating the law,” he said.

According to Article 30 of Lango, associations and NGOs might be temporarily suspended after a first warning if they fail to submit the documents. If documents are still not filed, the organisations could be deleted from the Interior Ministry’s register.

Kan said the ministry would send out notifications requesting documents “very soon”, though he didn’t give an exact date.

Soeung Saroeun, director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said he suspected the majority of registered organisations had ceased functioning, citing a 2012 survey his NGO conducted that found only a third on the registry were active. He called for the ministry to create mechanisms helping organisations comply with the law as opposed to just levying fines.

Chak Sopheap, director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the rules for NGOs were onerous for small organisations.

“The Lango imposes burdensome reporting requirements, something for which many associations and NGOs, and in particular small ones, may not have the material or financial resources for. One can only hope that the administrative provisions of the Lango will not, once again, be used as a pretext to close down, suspend, or otherwise negatively impact NGOs and associations,” she wrote in an email.

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