Cambodia: Reviewing the anti-corruption law

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.

This report was circulated among bloggers like Morn Vutha, the Cambodia Tonight, and the Son of Khmer Empire who regularly bring up corruption cases and updates on the anti-corruption campaign.

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.”


  • Mara

    Hi all,
    it will take time and effort to overcome corruption in Cambodia. Although I believe that Hun Sen must take aggressive action against corruption, he alone can not solve the problem but he can alleviate the insidiousness of the problem. It is encouraging to hear his condemnation of these corrupted officials. I hope his statement of repudiation of corruption is sinceref and honest.

  • kong chhayly

    The red dot between Cambodian eyes

    Today, I have had my eyes opened, and now I decide to stop avoiding the truth like those other commoner. I choose to be different; I choose to die as a man of the free world than to live a slave of the tyrant. It is all about the problem of corruption, I have witness many presentations of the problem presented by, not only my classmate, but also the so corrupted government itself.

    This government of Cambodia is listed as among the top ten most corrupted countries, yet donors and missionaries believed that their money has been put to good use, to help develop this weak and poor country. Yes, it true that this money have help “people” to better their way of life, as you can see or didn’t want to see many expensive cars have been in Cambodia for over 3, years to say the least, driven by such poor and yet patriot individuals. These sources of corruption have been in my mind for more than five years now, since I started to see this country as it should be seen. And many, many people keep asking the same question “In your opinion, how do we stop corruption?” when I believed that they should ask “when are WE take a break on our BUSSINESS?” “We can produce rice more than Vietnam and we have imported these rice to other country too!” said THE prime minister Hun Sen. I would like to remind you, prime minister, that your government is not the perfect government but it is not even sure itself that it a democracy. The Pol Pot regime is not what I would like to have govern me but please don’t push it aside like it was nothing, for the word equal share is not invented by the communist but rather us, who live in the free world, than we created communist for….. . Jorge Washinton said “even if I won’t corrupt other around me would” if Washinton’s model is too high, just don’t encourage other to corrupt as well. Ever since, that time corruption is started by two means as its basic and untouchable or untouched source, they are valuable groups and ineffected individuals. (Note: Not that in Cambodia, no one is honest or EFFECTIVE but I would like to not mention them now.)

    Don’t ask me “what is the solution than?” for I can only tell or say it out to you the problems. (Note: viewers discretions is advised; to these next examples that I will mention.) A certain, with the latter M and T in it name, company is doing business with other foreign company in planting sugarcane and oil palm. It would seem that the government is trusted this company enough to recommend it this foreign company but also trusted it enough to check that it wouldn’t follow the contract or the check that if the owner of the company did not send a guard at his plantation to assault one of the foreign worker than threaten this worker with an unlicensed a AK47, than this guard was not charged for anything because someone said something to HELP calm things down. This, mentioned Cambodian company, did not stop the foreign company from take taking their fertilizer out of the harbor, that they both use as a JV, to fertilized their crops. Because it would mean to stop the foreign company from creating factory that was meant to give them income and at the same time help those people in the local area. All of this occurred smoothly because the foreign company has already make payment to the other company for their percentage of the JV. This is just one of the examples of these valuable groups. Donors asked that the donation they make to help Cambodia is or perhaps sufficient of this country to not having problems. A Raven dropping stone in to a glass of water but wondered that why the volume of water has not increase, but is true that the water has rise. In some cases, for instant, my professor (sorry sir, but you are a fit example and I am too much inexperience for other example.) who has a house in Sihanouk Ville said to me that “in my area, there was no electricity for any house but I was lucky that my house is near to such general’s and mister’s houses, so I can get it from their houses, but my old, poor, neighbor lady could not.” The donation has indeed been receive by the government but the government is not putting the people fist, or rather putting them in second place, waiting the feast after the fit celebration.

    That enough with one subject now let move to the other. Ineffective individuals does not necessary mean ones who unable to perform their task ,but ask your self this would you be willing to be scolded at, rejected, have your pride soiled, or some time even insulted, so you can just have some paper work done by the book with any EXTRA payment or would you prefer the other way? (Note: Please don’t answer this if you are not willing to understand.) These individuals, some is rather kin and professed at their task but as the joker said never do some thong for free when you are good at it, or in my though never do in for salaries and free charge, so they performing these inappropriate or uncalled for action of unpleasant welcome and poor time management in hoping that EXTRA payment will be choose as the solution, often succeed too. What I am trying to point out that when a child grow in these kind of environment, they adapt to it and ironically they better it too. Since the majority if a country is middle class; honestly, it did not surprise me when I heard that Cambodia is among the top ten most corrupted countries.

    Now example (Note: although, I experienced this myself, I still not sure that it is a fit example but please try to understand.) the day I went to had my criminal record issued, so I need to write personal information and other, (Note: this translations is according to my understanding of his word) I can’t denied those word, that man in the office said with not so rough voice, but yet it make my blood boiled and it take all my desire to go study I America to answer again and again that I am sorry, we started with me going to criminal record office for an criminal record. Once, I got there, I looking for someone to accept my application. Then i saw this lady, who is sitting in the outer part of the office, and i handed my application to her but as she look at my application she saw a mistake, immediately, it was the address, shihanouk ville is now sihanouk province, she told me to go out side and correct it, although there was not that many people who rush to get anything done, but it might be their regulation, so I did as I am told and go outside corrected my document. After, I had corrected all in to sihanouk province, I came back in to the office but I did not see that lady, so I was told to go in to the back of the office. There, I saw two desks which I could hand in my application, once is a lady and the other is a man. Although, the lady is closer, she was busy with one other application (Note: that is not for current applicant but past applicant and she is just taking the serial number), so I handed mine to the man in the farther desk. Well, he started after seeing my first mistake by “you don’t know your parent exact birth place?” he said “Go write it again” then after I correct one mistake, he said to me “what is this? Don’t you know how to write this? Go write it again” then I though I should not bother him to much because there must be a thousand me a day to him so after I corrected my mistake and check for other. After I felt that it is all correct according to his instruction. I said “here, uncle, I hope there is no mistake this time.” (Note: “uncle” is a Cambodian word use to refer to older male for familiarity but does not necessary meant he is in any relation of one who said it.) He glance at it and said “go write again.” Well, I don’t know if it is right to ask for my own mistake but I do any way, I said “where is my mistake?” he replied with tenser voice “when you are wrong just go fix your mistake.” Well, he is right but how would I fix it when I don’t what it is? So I asked knowing that his answer is not what I hope, “uncle, I don’t know where my mistake is? Can you please tell me?” his answer was “don’t question me, when you are wrong don’t argue that you are right!” honestly, I was a fool who is slow in understanding what others said so I though it was because my poor verbal skill, so I corrected my statement to “no, I was only asking for advise in my mistake” the answer was “I hate when you don’t know a thing and keep saying [I am right], go and I won’t accept you application anymore” I thinking to myself at that time {what! Isn’t he supposed to reject my application but how could he not accept it? Isn’t he supposed to help me?} well, maybe it was his bad day, so I tuned to one lady who has the same job but was before busy and in the same room but when I handed to her my paper, she give a little sign to me saying that “I won’t accept it give it back to him.” Well I turn back to him; he said he is not accepting my application. I stood still in a room not so big but I felt as if I were a clown that could not tell a joke in a middle of a stadium with thousand of people laughing. I really wanted to cry, I felt my hand was make my look like something, like they should not be on me, right now. They should be else where. But letter that lady help point out my mistake, accepted my application and said gently to me “it hard when you don’t know anything”.
    Now, here my theory, there were two persons I would say the same as him in that room of nine people, multiplied by the entire bureaucrat than multiplied by the number of active citizens, you would get some interesting or where you should started as answer to that question I asked you not to ask.
    This is only a few points that I, my self, experienced. There is, for certain, that more problem need to be address and solve, thus room for improvement is a factor that can be fill by other writer, who is interested and can send as a suggestion to me, but this can help as a start of the remain problems, and this is a fact.

  • […] declaration among high ranking officials and civil society leaders (this asset declaration has draw much discussion on why civil society leaders are also subjected to this declaration). However, this premise is […]

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