Dec 21, 2012
Transparency International published its 2012 Index on December 5. Cambodia is ranked 157th among 176 countries, above Burma and Laos in the region. Unsurprisingly, the government has rejected the report. For Preap Kol, executive director of the Cambodian Chapter for Transparency International, “it is understood that it is to save its face”.
Since it was created in 2010, TIC has been cooperating with the anti-corruption unit (ACU) to work on education and outreach towards corruption. TIC wants to promote the ACU’s visibility to handle corruption case and will soon be launching the first legal service center to help people submit requests and handle cases more effectively. To him, corruption is “a symptom of a social issue” and will not be totally eradicated. “Every country has some. Putting it under control is the most important.”
Who is corrupt in Cambodia?
“The majority of the people fall into corruption as a receiver or as payer of a bribe. Corruption is systematic and it is a way of life. But if most of the people are involved in corruption and if everyone is arrested and guilty according to the law: how many more prisons should we be building in Cambodia?
“Over the last 20 years, I have seen it to be embedded in the culture and the mind of people. While there is no improvement on the culture , there are some improvements on the actions. As an example, an anti-corruption law has been passed and the anti-corruption Unit (ACU) has been established to implement it.
“Hence, for the first time in Cambodia, criminals cases have been brought to the public’s attention; especially from officials in the land management and judiciary systems. More civil society is now engaged in it. But corruption still tops the list of news topics everywhere and it is the core problem for Cambodia. This is why fighting it should be a top priority for the country.”
What do you think of the role of the ACU on the ground?
“Its independence can be questioned. This suspicion is normal given who is heading the unit’s key positions. But there is no official evidence against it. By creating this Unit, the government wants to focus on:
- education and outreach about integrity and the effect of corruptions;
- prevention by adopting mechanisms to minimize corruption from occurring;
- law enforcement and bringing the people to court”
Can you tell me if you observed any improvement between 2010 and 2012?
“Based on our 2012 Index, there had been some small improvements. This means we are going in the right direction and 1 years from now, Cambodia will go up in the ranking. People and civil society should play an active role. If this is the case, then there is hope.”
How is it possible to rely on the Judiciary to bring people to Justice if they are the most affected by corruption?
“In 2012, 4 cases involve the judiciary. there is a very significant problem of check and balances. Embassies and foreign donors are now trying to be the check and balances. Unfortunately, the problem lies at the top of the executive, legislative and judiciary systems. There is also the fact that many elected parliamentarians are serving as ministers. The Prime Minister is also a member of Parliament. How can they have a neutral view of their conduct from the legislative perspective?”
Is it true that some officials have to pay $ 5,000/month to keep their position in Cambodia ?
“Well, if one says it is $ 5,000, it could be much more in reality for some very senior positions. I would also add that you will not see high ranking officials taking their families far from home during Khmer New Year holidays… they are all at home to receive their “gifts”. This is when the money comes in for people to be able to keep their jobs. It is considered as a gift; a gratitude from subordinates to their superiors. No law says gratitude of that kind is prohibited.”
What do you think can be done?
“The Constitution should be amended to improve check and balance and more laws are needed. For example, the Access to Information law is crucial to allow access to information and more transparency. It was drafted and discussed once but now it is put on hold. It would allow budgets, national expense and public service reports to actually be published and accessible to civil society and the public.
“For this matter. T.I.C has a different approach from some other organisations regarding corruption. We are trying to make people speak out about corruption. Some other organisations are more cautious than TIC; the U.N is one among others for they think the reaction of the government can be negative when using the word corruption or anti-corruption in a dialogue with the government. But at TIC, we put the words out there and want to break through the nerve of society and enable them to speak the word corruption and anti-corruption comfortably. We would like to bring a movement together to see more people and institutions work together to fight corruption to make civil society stronger in demanding for accountability and transparency.”
What do you think of Burma being more corrupt than Cambodia and now being one of the “sexiest” country for international donors?
“The Burmese transition to democracy is very attractive and there is more investment. It is just like Cambodia in the 90′s. The difference is however that in the 90′s, Cambodia focused on rehabilitation and humanitarian aid. Money was pouring . It is only in the last decade that the relief assistance declined in favor of promoting human rights and governance. In Burma, the context is different as respect for human rights is a condition for the foreign investments. The country will have to develop scrutiny and make sure the money benefits people. Foreign investments have their own laws about not paying bribes. I hope these donors and investors can learn from the experience they have had in Cambodia.”