While there is a signal that anti-corruption law is likely to be passed this April, followed the long-awaited approval of the draft by the Council of Minister last December 2009, the anti-corruption theme gained momentum of discussion in the blogosphere by inquiring to walk the talk of anti-corruption.
Just recently Prime Minister Hun Sen, in his speech at a conference on military reform, warned of harsh sanctions for soldiers and military commanders involved in corruption. Reported in the Phnom Penh Post, the Prime Minister identified the names of several officials found to be guilty of illegal activities ranging from logging, land grabbing, smuggling and illegal fishing. With his acknowledgment, the Prime Minister firmly denounced:
“It is time to stop every activity involving illegal business or the support of illegal business. [I] don’t care how many stars or moons you have – I will fire you, and nobody will keep corrupt commanders in their seats[…] I declare my absolute order [to stop illegal businesses] — otherwise military reform will not move forward,” said Hun Sen.
In his previous blog entries, Vutha has raised many relevant corruption issues in various sectors including education and traffic police. He also brought the current debate of the anti-corruption law that not only requires the disclosure of assets from government officials but also NGO workers.
“Why does the anti-corruption law require NGO workers to declare their assets?” asked Vutha.
The explanation by the spokesman of the Council of Ministers who argued that the provision is applied to NGO workers because they serve as public servants has not convinced to Vutha who insisted that these two agencies have different powers and responsibilities.
“Although NGO staff serve the public, they cannot be categorized in the same level with government officials because NGO workers have no power and authority. They are working to help the poor and vulnerable people who are living under the exploitation of the rich and the powerful. By the way, the government officials get paid from the government which has high responsibility for the people because all officials’ salaries are money collected from people through tax. In addition, the NGO workers also have no power to control or manage the national budget or make policy”
Vutha further pointed out that the NGOs already have their external audit authority namely their donors:
“NGO workers’ salaries are funded by charity donors so that all financial budgets have been or controlled and audited by donors carefully. If donors found irregularity or corruption in organizations, they really determine or withdraw their funding. Therefore, NGO staff salaries are not related to government’s budget. Why does the government demand NGO workers to declare their property?”
Similarly, in the blog post on “Fight against corruption, not anti-government” by the Son of Khmer Empire, expressed his support to the anti-corruption advocacy who urged that the issue of anti-corruption effort should not be confused with the anti-government campaign. Interestingly, this blogger pointed out four factors leading to the spread of corruption:
“(1) a weak political will of the government officials in eradicating corruption, (2) a weak and incompetent head of the government in implementing the good governance, (3) the weak law enforcement, and (4) low salary.”
Unable to access the draft of the anti-corruption law, the Son of Khmer Empire suggests some lessons learned from Singapore by raising the role of anti-corruption legislative and executive bodies as well as the participation of the public in curbing corruption incidents.
More than this, a catchy article by Pou Sovachana, the Corruption Behind the Black Economy in Cambodia, also published on Cambodia Daily (February 02, 2010) and widely circulated among networks by e-mail, explicit many elements of old discussion but also a very comprehensive solution by stressing the role of qualified education, freedom of expression, and effective law enforcement. From his background as a vonlunteer teacher, he highlights that education is the medicine to the cycle of poverty and corruption:
“Schools, fire services, hospitals, the police, the army, the government officials, media reporters, the judiciary all began to demand bribes for their “supposed to be free” services. One can argue that poverty is the root cause of corruption while others say corruption the root cause of poverty. However one thing is certain that lack of education is the main cause of poverty. And quality education for ALL and the development of wisdom (law of karma) have been diagnosed as the best medicine of breaking the cycle of poverty and corruption.”
He adds that the zero tolerance through anti-corruption law enforcement is necessary:
“To become aid-independent and move the country forward in hope of beating the black economy to an open society of equality, justice, freedom, dignity, and progress, all kinds of corruption must be stopped and should be eliminated by adopting, implementing, and enforcing the anti-corruption law as soon as possible and to the fullest with zero tolerance from the highest to the lowest ranking.”
By conclusion, he insisted that the change can only take place when “people get more educated and learn to speak their own mind without fear of oppression. When the power of love (metta) overcomes the love of power, then real development will grow and last.”