Thursday, October 13, 2011

Minutes of the General Group Consultative Meeting “Strategic Dialogue on LANGO”

Executive Summary 
On the 7th October 2011, at the Korean Center (PGCT), Phnom Penh, a General Group Consultative Meeting:  Strategic Dialogue on the Draft Law on Association and NGOs (LANGO) was held.  The meeting was jointly organised by the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia (CCC), the NGO Forum (NGOF) and MEDiCAM, and 75 participants from 69 organisations from 17 provinces attended.
This consultative meeting was convened to collectively review the situation with a view to define future strategies and actions resulting from this.  Representatives from the Ministry of Interior were invited to present an updated on the current status of the law.   In short, the workshop was convened to achieve the three following objectives.
                        1. Provide latest update to NGO community
            2. Discuss future advocacy strategies
            3. Prepare Key Asks 

Dr Sin Somuny gave an opening speech in which he stressed the important contributions that CSOs have made to the development of Cambodia since the 1980s.  He described how CSOs have worked in good cooperation with government at all levels and play an important role not only in service provision, but also in policy development and technical assistance.  He cautioned, however, that the future of this cooperation is at risk in the face of the current draft of the LANGO.   He stated that CSOs have many concerns and thanked the MoI for being willing to meet in consultation.  He stressed the need for CSO concerns to be taken into account in the next draft.
Ministry of Interior representative H. E. LengVy gave an update on the status of the law.  He thanked the organizers and lead CSOs for their efforts to engage with the MoI and in consolidating comments and giving recommendations.  He stated that the law had been under consideration since 1995 and that this law was necessary under the Cambodian Constitution.  He explained that the working group of the MoI had met to discuss the principles of the law and that the following changes would be written:
                        - Number of members required for an Association has been decreased to 3
            - The requirement of audits had been removed as this is covered by the audit law
            - The reporting requirements had been streamlined
            - NGOs already registered, would not be required to re-register

He also explained that in order to facilitate registration, small NGOs and Associations would be able to do so at the local level, while those which operate in only one commune would only be required to write a letter to the Commune Council.  He stressed, however, that registration would remain mandatory.  
He also stressed that MoI leadership is determined to complete the law by the end of this year.  It was not clear if this meant drafting of the law would be completed by the end of the year or if the law would be passed in this time period.    
The Open Session of the Consultative Workshop was closed by Mr Mi Nac, Project Officer of CCC.  

MrLunBorithy, Executive Director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, gave a presentation outlining the CSO concerns on the 3rd draft.  He explained that the Joint Statement had so far received 455 endorsements from CSOs at the grassroots to the international level.  He reported that four regional and 1 national workshop had been held to collect CSO responses and concerns with the LANGO.  He reported these concerns and he also presented the Key Asks: 

                        - That the 4th draft being released publicly  
            - That CSOs/NGOs key concerns (August 2011 are addressed) o Voluntary registration
            o Simplified registration process and criteria
            o Meaningful and well-defined appeal process
            o Clear definitions

- That ample time is allowed for a multi stakeholder consultation to take place 
- That proper timing is given to all the stages of the 4th draft LANGO

Mr Saroeun gave an update on the advocacy efforts by CSOs nationally and internationally.  He explained the numerous letters of concern that had been written by international NGOs as well as the reports read at the September 28th UN Human Rights Council Interactive Session on Cambodia.  He also described local CSO with key institutions.  

Mr Sarouenorganized the participants into 3 discussion groups to get input on future strategies in terms of in-country actions, international actions and communications strategy.  

The General Group Consultative meeting was closed by Mr CheaSarom of NGO Forum who thanked participants for their time and feedback.  
Session Minutes
Mr Mi Nac welcomed attendees.
Guest speakers and panelwere introduced as H.E.LengVy (MoI), MrMeyNarath (MoI),  Mr LunBorithy (CCC),Mr Sin Somuny (MEDiCAM) and Mr CheaSarom(NGO Forum).
All participants stood for the National Anthem
Opening Speech
Mr Sin Somuny thanked everyone for their attendance.  He gave an overview of the impact of NGOs on the development of Cambodia since the 1980’s when some NGOs worked in
Cambodia.  This was recognized at the 30th anniversary of NGO-RGC Cooperation by H.E. Hun Sen.  In the 1990’s, NGOs took part in institutional development and human resources development to rebuild the country.  Since then, NGOs provide funding for re-building but also provide technical support. 
In the health sector, approximately 150 million dollars is brought in.  This is a rough estimate.  NGOs continue to fill gaps in service provision to the poor.  They also participate in drafting of policies, the NSDP as well as sectoral plans. They are also monitoring the implementation of the NSDP.  Many organisations have taken part in raising community awareness of good governance and social accountability to ensure the effectiveness of the use of development funds.  CSOs believe they have helped the RGC in the development of Cambodia.  
We would like to thank the RGC for giving us the opportunity and the space to have meaningful participation to help in the rebuilding of Cambodia.  The road to peace and prosperity is still long and there is still a very important need for CSOs to continue to help Cambodia achieve it’s goals and to help the people of Cambodia.  However, we are now concerned about the LANGO.  We have seen the 1st, 2nd, 3rd drafts of the law and we still have many concerns.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank all CSOs, national and local for uniting and for working hard and for studying the law carefully.  We have studied the law and prepared our analysis and wrote a Joint Statement on the 3rd draft which has now gathered 455 endorsements requesting an amendment to the draft law.  
We have met with the National Assembly, the Senate and many DPs and Embassies to raise our concerns.  We have also sent a letter to the UN Secretary General.  All these efforts are aimed at one thing: a common goal of a favourable environment for CSOs to take part in the development of Cambodia.  I would like to thank the RGC and especially the MoI, as they have made some changes and it is our great honour to have the MoI to take part in this meeting and we are looking forward to their update.  We hope that the RGC takes into account our concerns so that this law can be an acceptable law.  On behalf of the organizers, I hope we have a fruitful discussion. 

Presentation 1: H.E. LengVy,MoI
On behalf of the leadership of the MoI, I would like thank and compliment CCC, MEDiCAM and NGO Forum for their collaboration in organizing many meetings and workshops for commenting on the draft law.  This draft has been under development for a long time, since 1995 and this process has been stopped or delayedseveral times.  The purpose of the discussion is to ensure that this law is developed in dialogue with CSOs and that the law is acceptable and that we can strengthen democracy in Cambodia.  As Dr. Somuny said, the law is back at the MoI.  There was an inter-ministerial meeting 12 articles were discussed, but because the Ministry has received recommendations from Associations and NGOs, the Minister took these into account and asked for the law to be returned to the MoI so that these concerns could be addressed.   At the technical level we have studied the recommendations to revise this law.  We had a meeting yesterday and had a meeting with leadership from theMoFA.  We have not revised it yet, but have looked at the main principles of the law and discussed the comments that we have received.  We will try to continue to reduce complexity of implementation.
The RGC has decided that we must have this law because as you know the constitution stipulates that the people have the right to establish Associations and Organisations, but there must be a law to manage the establishment of such entities.  We don’t look only at the Cambodian context, but have also studied other countries in Asia, Europe and the USA.  Many countries have such laws.  The names may be different but their intent is the same.  We have also studied books by foreign publishers concerning the rights of communities and citizens. 
Although, this is the first time that the MoI has come to talk to you here in this kind of meeting, we have met many times with CSOs to discuss other laws.  We collaborate with NGOs often and we have established an NGO Liaison Office (NLO). We have collaborated with NGOs in the education sector and in other sectors.  NGOs have provided important services.   In these past, we have had not any problems and have always wanted to work towards the development of Cambodia together and to improve the conditions for the people.  Our cooperation is important.  
I would like to reiterate that the purpose of this law is to strengthen the partnership between NGOs and other government agencies.  I personally don’t want to hear that the RGC or NGOs say negative things about each other.  We should focus on cooperation instead.  So this is the main purpose of this law is to strengthen our partnerships.  We have heard it said that the law is a threat or intended to limit civil society, but that is not our agenda.  
The results of our preliminary meeting yesterday are as follows: 
MoI leadership told us to complete this law by the end of this year so our working group will have to work hard to meet this deadline. 
            1. Registration: we have heard the recommendations from CSOs for voluntary registration, but after our discussion, registration will remain compulsory.  Those organisations which have already registered, will be considered automatically re-registered.  There will be no need to re-register. a. We need to update the current status of registered NGOs in order to make sure how many of them are active.   We have 3700-3800 Associations and NGOs on our currentlist, but not all of them are active.  Perhaps less than 1000 are active. 
            b. We are thinking how to make the law easier for small NGOs and Associations.  For example those working in only one commune, they will only need to write a letter to the commune chief.  He will then endorse and allow the organization to work in the commune.  
            c. In the draft law, it stipulates that an association must have 7 people and 3 applicants.  Now we will change this to 3 members for associations.  

            2. Reporting:  We will not ask for additional reports, but yearly reports will need to be cc’ed to the MoI.  There will no requirements for additional reports.   a. The needs for audits will be removed from the LANGO because we already have an audit law.  

We can’t show you this draft yet, but can only tell you about some of the main points.  After the draft law is developed we will continue to discus with representative of Associations and NGOs, but I think we have already entertained all your requests already.  However, we will continue discussions. 
Questions and Comments were called from the floor:
            1. Registration is a tool for those which want to formalize themselves so that they can be recognized.  The ministry seems to think that NGOs don’t want to register.  So I would like to ask:  what is the purpose of the registration?  What is the rationale of registration as this seems to be the main point of conflict.  In other countries, there are registered and un-registered organizations.  Those that want to have the benefit of the law register, those that do not want to have the benefit of the law, do not register.  Is registration for becoming a legal entity or receiving benefit from the law?  In Cambodia, for example, we have formal businesses which are registered and informal ones, which are too small to register. 

Answer:  For small, unofficial associations, we haven’t decided if we have to force them to register yet.  We have never gone around the village to tell these small groups to register, but the law is for formal Associations that want to have long term activities.  The draft law also states that registered associations will benefit from the law, but those unregistered will not benefit.  
            2. Government has the right to draft the law and they think about the appropriateness of the law.  What is it necessary to expedite this law?  Do NGOs present a threat and that is why this law must be made so fast?

Answer:  We are not saying that the sector is disordered.  We have been trying to prepare this law since 1995 but have not yet done so.  However, the constitution states that we must have this law.  At the MoI we have many laws in the pipeline and we want to complete laws that have been in processing for a long time. 
            3. I would like to know about he collective activities of people who are working together to express their rights, such as community people who have been alienated from their land.  Do they have to register?  In terms of asking for permission at local level,  at the commune level we were told to seek approval from provincial level and sometimes the commune chief still does not allow us to carry our out activities even though such permission has been granted. 

Answer:  This kind of group is not an association, so they don’t need to register.   Some local authorities do ask for authorization because this is the guidance or instruction.  We should always inform local authorities so they are aware of activities and seek their support.  
            4. Can you allow CSO representatives to discuss the drafting of the law with the MoI technical group?  What about termination and suspension of organizations:  what are the criteria? 

Answer:  In respect to the Civil Code, registration is allowed by a second law.  We will continue to seek comments.  Termination and suspension is based on by-laws of the NGO/Association for local organizations and the MoU for International organisations.   We can discuss this further. 

            5. In our position paper we had four main requests.  Can you address these points. 

Answer:  For the appeal, we have already put in a right to appeal.  In respect to the glossary, we would like to ask you what you want us to clarify and tell us where the gaps are in our current glossary.  
I forgot to mention that for alliances, they will not be required to register.  The lead organization only needs to notify the MoI.    
            6. (1)  A circular was sent out in 2004 suggesting local authorities that any local organisations that register with Ministry and want to open a local office need to ask for permission with MoI and any provincial organisations need to inform of any activities they wish to hold within 5 days.  Question:  Will this circular become invalid when the law comes into force.  (2) The national policy on village and commune security requires that CSOs need to be involved in with the commune police to promote safety groups otherwise they can not continue to operate.  Why?  (3) The dissolution of NGOs needs to be revisited since current practice such as recent suspension of STT and warnings to other NGOs.  How will law enable this practice?

Answers:  (1)  There will be a review of NGO Law and any circular that is related to this law will be revisited.  (2) There is no requirement that NGOs must be part of safety group. (3) In terms of suspension, the MoI suspended an organization based on their own by-laws because they were carrying out activities not specified in their by-laws.  They were suspended for 6 months because they changed their director but did not change the by-law or their registration.  We issue termination or suspension on by-law.  

            7.  In the draft law all INGOsmust sign MoUs with support from government  agencies.  We would like to ask you to reconsider this point.  Some local agencies are concerned, there seem to be limitations on their activities and that local police can monitor their activities so their freedom is limited.  

We discussed this point yesterday and MoFA/IC. 
Follow up from Mr. MeyNarath:  I would like to add about re-registration situations like the one faced by STT.  We can suspended organisations  if they have issues or do not abide by their own by-laws or break Cambodian law. Regarding STT there were many complaints about them from Kampot and we asked them to meet us and asked them to revise their by-laws.  In their registration,they have listed A as the head, but actually B is the leader.  We asked them to change this and in over a year they have not done so and so we issued this suspension.  They have handed in updated documents, but they have turned off their phones.  Now we try to contact them through the UN, who are able to call them. After Pchum Ben they said they will come to meet with us, but they have not yet come.  They won’t meet us, so what can we do. 
Mi Nac closed the session and apologized to those who wanted to ask questions but were unable to.  
Continuation from MeyNarath:  We have not seen the request signed by 455 organizations.  We can’t share the draft as it is still a work in progress and it is not natural to discuss laws with civil society, but we have been discussing with CSOs.  The CoM did not send the law back, we asked for it back because CSOs continue to have questions and concerns.  So this law should be a pleasant thing for you.  Please be more specific with your requests such as the glossary, which words do you not understand.  We already have definitions and we can’t have a definition for every article.  The PM has asked what words you don’t understand, so please be specific.  We don’t want the law to become a dictionary.  Give us a list of 10-20 words you don’t understand. 
Mi Nac thanked the Excellencies for spending their invaluable time and for sharing information on the LANGO and wished them success.  
Refreshments: Morning Tea
Start of Closed Session
Mr Saroeun welcomed everyone back and gave the update of the schedule due to the earlier session running over time.  

Mr Borithy gave updates on CSO Concerns on the 3rd draft.   The slide presentation is available in Annex 1.  

Mr Saroeun gave an update on the LANGO.  The slide presentation is available in Annex 2.  

Mr Phearun, HRTF, presented about the Shrinking Space for Civil Society in Cambodia.  He invited a victim from BoeungKak Lake.   She mentioned that the situation for them is very difficult.  They try to protect their house and their land, but the authorities use violent force.  They have tried to advocate for their rights, but do not feel they have been able to express their concerns or that local authorities are acting democratically.  On September 16th her house was bulldozed.  

Mr Phearun stated that the right to expression is getting smaller and under the current term of the government it is difficult.  Law provides the freedom of expression but the government applies different measures to limit this freedom.  

He showed a slide show of various protests around the country on issues related to land rights.  He gave examples of people being affected by evictions, organizations refused permission to hold rallies and individuals being sued for speaking out.  

Key Asks: 

Mr Saroeun led a large group discussion on the Key Asks.  He showed the list of Key Asks presented by Mr Borithy and asked the participants to reflect if any changes or updates were required. 

Previous Key Asks:  
            That the 4th draft being released publicly  
            That CSOs/NGOs key concerns (August 2011 are addressed) o Voluntary registration
            o Simplified registration process and criteria
            o Meaningful and well-defined appeal process
            o Clear definitions

That ample time is allowed for a multi stakeholder consultation to take place 
That proper timing is given to all the stages of the 4th draft LANGO

Suggestions for Key Asks
        - Clearly define the objective criteria for registration process  
        - Ask for regularly review process of the law enforcement and implementation guideline
        - Submission of annual report to MoI – time – submission process of report – what will be the format
        - Asking for permission or inform about NGOs/CBOs activities to local authority or ministry – need clarification 
            - Which suggestions/concerns will be added into law and which technical terminologies will state in implementation guideline, need prakas, sub-degree from

Several other Key Asks were raised, discussed and considered  However, most participants felt that the original Key Asks were sufficient and that expanding them would limit their effectiveness. 
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