Parties told to see life at the grassroots level

* This article is originally from the Phnom Penh Post by May Titthara and Sean Teehan: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/2013061166183/National/parties-told-to-see-life-at-the-grassroots-level.html

A collective of citizens who say the government ignores their concerns has invited the Kingdom’s three largest parties to participate in public assemblies in three different provinces this month.

Members of the Cambodian Grassroots People’s Assembly made the announcement to about 40 people at a press conference yesterday at Meta House in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district.

“Should these peaceful events be prevented from occurring or the politicians choose not to attend, then Cambodians will once again have demonstrable proof that their representatives are anything but,” a statement from the group said.

At the conference, Grassroots members called on politicians from the Cambodian People’s Party, Cambodia National Rescue Party and Funcinpec to attend the assemblies scheduled to take place in Kampong Ch­hnang on Thursday, Preah Sihanouk on June 16 and Siem Reap on June 24.

The Cambodian constitution states that the government will hold a forum once a year to hear citizens’ grievances and seek solutions, said Chan Soveth, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc. However, this is something that has not been adhered to.

Several members of the Grassroots People’s Assembly – which formed in 2010 and represents causes from fishery protection to LGBT rights – expressed disillusionment with the government yesterday, noting that a petition they filed seven months ago remains unanswered.

The petition demanded the National Assembly place more protections for citizens in the land, foreign security, trade, human rights and labour sectors.

“We stopped believing in the government,” said Chea Spoherk, a board member for the Farmer Nature Network. “We’ve lost our confidence in the government.”

Citizens continue to struggle with issues on which the government has already acted, said Koem Rady of the Workers Information Center.

For instance, workers in Cambodia’s booming garment industry saw their minimum monthly wage rise from $61 to $75 last month, but they still struggle to pay their bills, Rady said. “Even though our pay increased, our rent and utilities also increased.”

Yem Pech, a forestry advocate representing the Phnom Kuk Network in Kampong Chhnang, said the government promised to return 500 hectares of forest land set aside for development back to villagers, but had not made good on their promise yet.

Grassroots members are expecting a hefty turnout to each of the assemblies, with a predicted 800 coming out to Kampong Chhnang, and more than 1,000 expected at the other two events, said Ly Pisey, of Social Action for Change.

The Grassroots group does not support any one particular party, Pisey said.

But if officials do not show up at the assemblies, the group will send another petition listing their demands to the government.

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