NGOs Decline Second Meeting With Government Spokesman

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A meeting with government officials and representatives of rights groups Licadho and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut on September 4, 2019 at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh (Khun Vanda/VOD)

Two NGOs have declined a second meeting with a government spokesman after already discussing their joint report on the country’s microfinance sector with him last week.

Licadho and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) last month released a report, “Collateral Damage,” detailing cases of human rights abuses and unethical practices in the sector, including coerced land sales and credit officers referring borrowers to informal moneylenders in order to meet repayments.

The government and microfinance institutions have rejected the claims of rights abuses in the sector by saying it is not general practice.

Licadho and STT said on Tuesday that they had declined a second invitation from government spokesman Phay Siphan to meet again today at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh.

In letters addressed to Siphan and shared on the Government Spokesperson Unit’s Facebook page, the groups said that they felt they had nothing more to explain about the report following the previous meeting.

Licadho monitoring manager Am Sam Ath said the focus of meetings with the government should not be about whether organizations are allowed to disseminate information.

Such meetings could give a bad impression to the public about the government’s intentions, he said.

“These invitations are good for cooperation, but if the invitation is focused on the issuing of reports and providing information to media, we are concerned that — on behalf of civil society — the public and national public opinion will see it in a different way,” Sam Ath said.

STT director Soeung Saran defended his organization’s right to issue reports without interference.

“In a democratic society, as our partners have suggested … like Samdech Krola Hom [Interior Minister Sar Kheng] has already stated, he welcomes all expression from all parties to promote democracy,” Saran said. “It is freedom of expression for us and for all parties concerned.”

Siphan, the government spokesman, said he regretted the NGOs’ decision, but his spokespersons unit would continue to send invitations in the future.

“This shows non-cooperation in our partnership,” he said.

Transparency International Cambodia director Preap Kol was also invited to meet Siphan today over comments he made to regional news website Southeast Asia Globe about inequality in the economy, but is currently overseas.

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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