Phnom Penh (dpa) – The passage of a law on NGOs and local associations in Cambodia in the lower house of parliament is the latest step in nearly a decade of official efforts to regulate the sector.
NGOs flocked to Cambodia in the early 1990s when it began its transition to democracy under the auspices of the United Nations Transitional Authority, which ruled the country from 1991 until 1993.
Hundreds of NGOs stayed on to fill gaps in social services and provide development assistance.
Government figures say there are more than 4,000 NGOs operating in Cambodia, but NGO Forum on Cambodia, a coalition of major organizations, says the number is closer to 1,330.
The sector employs around 450,000 people – including a significant proportion of foreigners – and is responsible for 600 to 700 million dollars in projects and aid each year, according to NGO Forum.
“Millions of people are impacted [by NGOs] in terms of social redevelopment and in terms of community development,” said the group’s executive director Tek Vannara.
The Interior Ministry reportedly began drafting the NGO bill in 2006, and it has been a matter of heated political debate ever since.
The government has argued that the law simply mirrors similar legislation in many Western countries, while critics fear it will be used to muzzle the NGO sector.