Monday, September 19, 2011

Cambodian NGOs Raise Doubt

Cambodia-based NGOs are under the gun "as the government gears up to pass controversial legislation regulating the country's estimated 2,000 civil society groups" (Asia Times Online) who are part of a foreign donor-funded railway renovation project, costing approximately $141 million that will affect more than 4000 poor families living near the tracks.

On August 4, 2011, the Cambodian Ministry of Interior suspended Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), one of several involved with monitoring the resettlement of residents displaced by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and AusAID-funded rail project. At first, talks of suspension were due to inconsistencies in the group's paperwork, but later we found out the truth.

"STT operated and incited people to oppose national development by the government in order to make the development partners suspend or stop the project," the ministry said in an August 14 statement.

Since the suspension of STT, the government has warned NGOs about making "false" claims, such as the death of two children last year.

These NGOs have received criticism that marks them as using a project that will only benefit their career by exploiting others. They stay firm though stating that they are not opposed to national development.

But, since the United Nations "mission of the early 1990s seeded Cambodia with a vibrant civil society sector, NGOs here have had an ambivalent relationship with the government." (Asia Times Online) This, until recently, made Cambodia a safe and welcoming place to hold an NGO.

Some NGOs in Cambodia, such as VBNK- an NGO founded by Kumarian Press author Jenny Pearson - hold no responsibility in this debate, but still have to worry about more government interference. Like many NGOs, they choose to do business in a truthful way that will positively affect those in the country.

However, with the new regulation on the horizon, this may change things for NGOs, favoring more government involvement. If NGOs were honest, and handle their business practices with integrity, there, most likely, would be less government interaction. (Read Chris Corbett's new read to see how to create an honest nonprofit organization.)

These projects must be sustainable and help the people of Cambodia and if the government must intervene in order for this successful transition, then so be it.

Read more about this issue now.

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