Media Statement: Railway Resettlement Debacle Cover Up: ADB Conceals Critical Expert Report

Railway Resettlement Debacle Cover Up:

ADB Conceals Critical Expert Report

Media Statement

 

(Phnom Penh, March 18, 2013) Equitable Cambodia (EC), Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) and Inclusive Development International (IDI) regret the Asian Development Bank’s refusal to disclose a critical independent expert report on the impacts of involuntary resettlement caused by the Railway Rehabilitation Project in Cambodia.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has denied disclosure of an independent monitoring report by the world-renowned resettlement expert Dr. Michael Cernea about the controversial project to rehabilitate Cambodia’s railway. The project affects at least 4164 families who live alongside Cambodia’s dilapidated railway tracks and requires the physical relocation of at least 1200 families. A joint venture of the Australian firm Toll Holdings and the Cambodian firm Royal Group secured a 30-year concession to operate the refurbished railways.

Dr. Cernea was commissioned by ADB in mid-2012 to examine the situation and prepare the report, Monitoring of Population Resettlement in Cambodia’s Railway Rehabilitation Project: Current Status, Strengths, Weaknesses, and Recommendation, in response to the ongoing resettlement problems plaguing the Railway Project.  Informed sources say that the report is highly critical of the resettlement process and the impacts on affected families, who have been left worse off as a result.

The ADB rejected an initial request for disclosure of the report.  After an appeal was launched to the Public Disclosure Advisory Committee, ADB agreed to disclose the report’s recommendations but refused to disclose the full report.  The Committee stated that “the harm that would result from the disclosure of the entire Report would be substantial, immediate, and likely irreparable, and outweighs the benefits of disclosure.”  According to the ADB’s Public Communications Policy, the decision by PDAC is final and cannot be appealed further.

“Harmful to whom? I really wonder what they are hiding that could be so harmful,” said Eang Vuthy, Representative of Equitable Cambodia. “It seems that ADB is putting its own interests ahead of the public interest and the interests of people that have been harmed by the Railway Project.”

“Forthcoming STT research on the resettlement impacts of the Railway Rehabilitation Project, conducted following Cernea’s Impoverishment Risks and Reconstruction model, unequivocally shows that people affected by the project have been harmed”, said Ee Sarom, Programmes Coordinator at STT. “By not disclosing Dr. Cernea’s report, the ADB is trying its best to cover up that fact.”

Households affected by the Railway Project also expressed their deep disappointment with the ADB’s lack of disclosure.

“I believe that Dr. Cernea’s report will effectively benefit the people so ADB will not release it because they are worried about losing their interest,” said Sim Pov, community representative from Toul Sangke A in Phnom Penh. “I want the ADB to release the report and I want them to translate it into Khmer so that we can compare the report with ADB’s policy – that people should not be worse off as a result of the Railways Project. I want to see the ADB comply with the recommendations made by Dr. Cernea.”

“I am really sorry that the report prepared by Michael Cernea is not being disclosed,” said Mr. Prom Sarith, a community representative at Trapeang Anchhan in Phnom Penh. “Our lives at the new resettlement site are in the harsh condition, where we are lacking basic infrastructure, adequate housing, jobs, and school for our children.  This has made us become severe debtors and face losing our plot of land.  We understand that Michael Cernea’s report reflects our real situation at the ground and provides good recommendations to ADB to improve the situation of the affected communities.  We would strongly request this report be disclosed. It is for our benefit.”

“It is the ultimate insult by ADB to the families whom they have upended and impoverished with this project that they aren’t even entitled to know what a global resettlement expert thinks about their situation,” said David Pred, Managing Associate of Inclusive Development International.  “Perhaps that is because Dr. Cernea’s take is totally inconsistent with the whitewashed description of the resettlement situation that ADB’s spin doctors have portrayed.”

Lack of transparency and timely public disclosure of key documents has marred the Railway Project from the start, and is by no means limited to Dr. Cernea’s report. Reportedly, the Cambodian government, the ADB, and AusAID are currently in the process of preparing an Addendum to the Resettlement Plan, which will see the resettlement of an additional 111 households in Phnom Penh. As with previous Resettlement Plans, it will not be publicly disclosed until finalised and approved, denying resettlers an opportunity to be informed and meaningfully consulted about plans that will profoundly affect their lives.

“The ADB claims it recognises transparency and accountability as essential to development effectiveness and to achieve its vision of an Asia-Pacific free of poverty,” said Nora Lindström, Programme Development Manager at STT.   “This project exemplifies everything but that. Affected households and civil society groups supporting them had high hopes for Dr. Cernea’s report, and now we won’t even get to see it.” 

 – END

Media contacts:

In Phnom Penh:  Eang Vuthy, Representative, EC: (+855) 12791700, vuthy@equitablecambodia.org

In Phnom Penh:  Nora Lindström, Programme Development Manager, STT:  (+855) 15 552 805, nora@teangtnaut.org

In Melbourne:  David Pred, Managing Associate, IDI: +61 418146603, david@inclusivedevelopment.net

Extensive information, media reports and other news items about the Project are available at:

http://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/railway

http://www.teangtnaut.org/

https://cambodiatrainspotter.wordpress.com

NGOs in shock over ‘arbitrary’ suspension

Vincent MacIsaac and Mom Kunthea, Phnom Penh Post, Aug 12 2011

The “arbitrary” suspension of a Phnom Penh NGO that works with the city’s poor offers a preview of what will happen when a new law on associations and NGOs is enacted, civil society groups warned yesterday.

“Even before the restrictive law has been enacted, Cambodian society has been offered a preview into the future of government control over civil society,” a statement from a group of more than 30 NGOs and donor groups said.

“The use of a vague administrative technicality to suspend an organisation is an alarmingly clear sign of how the Cambodian government intends to use the NGO law to curb the activities of all associations and NGOs that advocate for the rights of marginalised groups,” the groups said.

The national and international organisations ranged from rights groups to unions, Christian aid agencies and NGOs that promote children’s rights. The groups gathered yesterday afternoon at the office of NGO Forum to discuss the suspension of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut by the Ministry of Interior.

STT received a letter from the ministry on August 2 ordering it to “suspend [its] activities” until the end of this year. The NGO produces research on urban development. It also researches relocations sites for those evicted from the capital.

Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, said the lawyers and rights workers who have been analysing the ministry’s letter “found no legal basis for the suspension”.

“Lawyers have poured over this letter and no one has been able to understand [the legal reasoning behind it]. The best we can determine is that the relevant ministries have decided to implement the law on associations and NGOs before it has even been passed and enacted,” she said. “If this can be done arbitrarily, any group can be closed and suspended.”

The letter cites administrative and procedural breaches, such as “failing to modify its leadership structure”, as reasons for the suspension, according to lawyers who have analysed it.

Yesterday’s statement from civil society groups said they were “not aware of any legal provision authorising such a suspension” and that attempts “to seek clarification from the Ministry of Interior have been met with silence”.

Yeng Virak, director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said he was “shocked” by the suspension. “Imagine what will happen when the NGO law is passed,” he said.

A third draft of the controversial legislation is at the Council of Ministers. It has been sharply criticised as an attempt by the government to restrict freedom of association and speech, as well as undermine the progress Cambodia has made in developing a civil society sector.

“The future of Cambodia democracy is at a crossroads,” the groups warned yesterday. “STT’s work with some of Cambodia’s most marginalised communities should be applauded, not silenced.”

STT programme coordinator Ee Sarom said: “We deeply regret the recent decision of the MoI and we look forward to returning to our operations as soon as possible.”

Tith Sothea, spokesman for Quick Press Reaction Unit, declined to comment, referring questions to Nouth Sa An, secretary of state of Ministry off Interior, who could not be reached.

Third draft of Cambodia’s associations and NGO law overlooks key concerns

Borithy Lun, The Guardian, Aug 12 2011

MDG : NGO in Cambodia

A Mith Samlanh education centre run by NGO Friends-International. A law requiring NGOs to register threatens such projects. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Civil society groups in Cambodia finally received a glimpse of the third draft of the law on associations and non-governmental organisations (NGO law) on 29 July.

Cambodia’s citizens had previously only been able to speculate on what the draft law might contain, and how it might ultimately be enforced. The international community and civil society in Cambodia have criticised previous versions of the law as having a restrictive effect on civil society, effectively weakening citizen accountability for poverty-focused efforts.

Co-operation between the Cambodian government and civil society has long been central to the country’s evolution from a war-torn country to a peaceful, vibrant, developing one. While government and civil society organisations have often had different opinions, they have held constructive discussions and co-operated.

However, the latest draft of the NGO law puts this relationship at risk by severely restricting freedom of expression and potentially reducing the voice of many organisations that represent and protect the marginalised: farmers, labour unionists, land activists, students, sex workers, and the disabled.

From the perspective of civil society, the third draft of the NGO law has not changed significantly from the second and first draft. The NGO law still fails to respect fundamental rights, including freedom of association and freedom of expression. In its present form, the draft law will have a severe, negative impact on domestic NGOs and associations as well as foreign NGOs, and will dramatically hinder the delivery of development aid to Cambodia. The result: valuable public services will be curtailed, development at the community level will be stunted, and poverty and corruption will increase. Moreover, the draft law will affect government programs. Major concerns about the current draft include:

• Registration is mandatory and complex, rather than voluntary and simple.

• No safeguards to ensure that denials of registration or involuntary dissolutions are imposed objectively.

• The law does not include a period for an appeal process when a request for registration is denied.

• Key terms in the law are undefined, and many sections are vague.

Ambiguity as well as the complex registration process and reporting requirements will add to the burden of government agencies responsible for administering new regulations, especially the ministry of the interior and the ministry of foreign affairs and international co-operation.

Civil society groups understand the government’s need for a legal framework to ensure the stability and security of the country, and to facilitate the effective delivery of development and humanitarian aid. However, such a framework also needs to give citizens the freedom to engage in law-abiding activities without undue restrictions or burdens. To improve the law, the government should:

• Eliminate mandatory registration except for domestic NGOs and associations that wish to take advantage of the benefits of registration.

• Allow the NGO and association registration process to “be truly accessible, with clear, speedy, apolitical, and corruption-free procedures”.

• Clearly outline a transparent process for the evaluation of registration applications. Any government decision to deny registration should be in writing and take effect over a reasonable and manageable time frame. The appeal process should be explicit and quick. It should also coincide clearly with objective legal standards for the purposes of review.

• Exclude or simplify reporting procedures for small, provincial, community-based development organisations and alliances in articles 44, 46 and 48.

• Incorporate a glossary explanatory notes for every article in the draft.

Cambodia’s past development success – social and economic – would never have happened if the opportunities to freely organise and express opinions had been curtailed. It is, therefore, not only in the best interest of Cambodia’s citizens but also to the advantage of the national government to make registration optional for domestic NGOs and associations, to make it simple and to define terms. Successful development of societies worldwide goes hand in hand with increased openness.

Campaign Against NGO Law Intensifies

Richard Finney and Parameswaran Ponnudurai, Radio Free Asia, Aug 12 2011

oncerned by Cambodia’s suspension of a German-funded society advocating for the urban poor, nongovernmental organizations in the country have stepped up a campaign against a proposed law governing their activities.

Forty civil society bodies and umbrella groups condemned in a statement Friday the Cambodian government’s decision suspending the operations of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) for five months effective Aug. 1, citing its failure to file certain documents.

“The use of a vague administrative technicality to suspend an organization is an alarmingly clear sign of how the Cambodian government intends to use the NGO Law to curb the activities of all associations and NGOs that advocate for the rights of marginalized groups within Cambodian society,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“We condemn the suspension of STT in the strongest possible terms. The suspension of STT is completely arbitrary and a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression and association, and an assault on human rights defenders,” they said.

The groups, which include groups such as Oxfam, Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), and NGO Coalition to Address Trafficking & Sexual Exploitation of Children in Cambodia, demanded an “immediate reversal” of the suspension.

“We regard this act to silence STT as an act of oppression against us all,” they said.

STT, which has worked for six years providing services and advice to urban communities in Cambodia, has the German government’s development arm Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as one of its key funders.

Third draft

The suspension came as the government considers the third draft of a controversial law designed to regulate nongovernmental organizations that has been criticized by NGOs and some donors as an an attempt to restrict freedom of association and speech as well as the growth of civil society.

“Civil society organizations, including associations and NGOs, are very concerned that the law in its third draft gives far-reaching power to the authorities to control the rights of citizens to organize and express themselves,” said a statement issued by a group of NGOs on Aug. 3.

These rights are set out in the Cambodian Constitution and international treaties that Cambodia has signed, the statement said.

Speaking at the Washington offices of Oxfam America—an international aid and development group—Cooperation Committee of Cambodia executive director Borithy Lun said that Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior released the law’s third draft on July 29.

The draft includes some recommendations made by NGOs in response to earlier drafts, but does not address all of their concerns, Lun said.

He urged Cambodia’s government to look again at the recommendations made by NGOs operating in the country.

“We feel it is very important for civil society to have space to operate, and for [civil-society groups and NGOs] to be able to continue to serve the poor and vulnerable people of Cambodia.”

Unclear provisions in the law, as it is now drafted, would make it difficult for NGOs and small, community-based organizations to work to help Cambodia’s poor, and would block the country’s economic development, Lun said.

Among these provisions, Lun said, is the requirement under Article 6 that all NGOs—both grassroots organizations and international groups—re-register with the government.

The proposed law will now go to Cambodia’s Council of Ministers and National Assembly for approval, then to the Senate for review, and then to the Constitutional Council, Lun said. Finally, it will be enacted by “endorsed royal assent” by the King.

Enabling NGOs

The law in its final form should “enable” rather than restrict the operations of NGOs in Cambodia, Lun said.

“We have taken action in Cambodia to brief the members of parliament and brief the members of the Senate, sharing with them our concerns and our recommendation as to how this law should be amended to reflect the ‘enabling’ aspect, so that civil society can function to serve the people of Cambodia.”

But legislative action to approve the law now stands at “the eleventh hour”  Lun said, and could move forward very quickly at this point.

Also speaking at Oxfam, Sue Vaughn—Freedom House senior program manager for Southeast Asia and International Religious Freedom—agreed that the law might now be enacted quickly, but said there may still be time to recommend changes.

It is in the Cambodian government’s own interest to protect “peaceful dissent, peaceful association, and peaceful assembly” in the country, as these will promote further development, Vaughn said.

“I think that Cambodia has had unprecedented peace in the last ten years. It has had unprecedented economic development and growth, and these are all good things. And we need to acknowledge those good things that have come out in the last ten years.”

A “vibrant” Cambodian civil society will lead to a vibrant Cambodian democracy and will attract foreign investors, Vaughn said.

Vaughn noted that Cambodia will take on the chairmanship of ASEAN next year.

“If Cambodia goes through with enacting a law that really represses its civil society, it is going to lose credibility—both in the region as well as in the international arena.”

Cambodia must demonstrate both to the international community and to its regional partners in Southeast Asia that it takes democracy seriously, Vaughn said.

Pending Passage of NGO Law, Cambodia Suspends Urban Poor Group

Che de los Reyes, Devex, Aug 12 2011

Cambodia’s suspension of a local non-governmental organization critical of a government project raises concern over an administrative crackdown on groups advocating the rights of the marginalized.

The move comes at a time when the country is about to pass a law, which international and civil society groups fear would give the government discretionary powers and control over them.

Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, a German-funded, local non-governmental organization that works with urban communities, was ordered to halt its operations for five months starting Aug. 1 for its alleged failure to submit certain documents to the government.

The move has drawn protests from civil society groups in the country who say that the government’s decision has no legal basis.

STT has been known to be critical of a $142 million government project to rehabilitate Cambodia’s railway. The project is jointly funded by the Asian Development Bank and the Australian government. The group said that households displaced by the project are worse off because they have not received the full compensation due them, which could have enabled them to build a home in the relocation site provided by the government.

Cambodia’s Council of Ministers is currently discussing the third draft of an NGO law that has drawn criticism from donors and development groups around the world. The draft will next go to parliament, where it is expected to be passed by the ruling party.