More than 900,000 Cambodians have signed a petition calling on the government to enact a law against corruption that has been in the drafting process for nearly 15 years, organizers said Wednesday.
The announcement came a day after the National Assembly again ended its five-year mandate without beginning debate on the anti-corruption law, which officials say remains under review.
Bearing thumbprints and signatures from people in 19 provinces and municipalities, the petition, part of the USAID-funded One Million Signatures Campaign, also calls for an end to bribery and extortion in schools and health services, said Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, one of 11 NGOs that helped collect signatures.
About 300,000 names were added to the petition in late 2006, while 605,000 have been added in renewed campaigning since December, Yong Kim Eng said. The campaign expected to reach its goal of 1 million names by the end of the month, he said.
“We want to collect a million to show the government that the people want the anti-corruption law,” he said, while describing how one petitioner in Svay Rieng province was required to pay for tuberculosis treatment at a supposedly free health clinic.
Other complaints included extortion of small-business owners, bribery in obtaining land titles and the venality of the court system.
“In the courts, if you don’t have money, you don’t win cases,” he said.
At a meeting with aid donors last month, government officials said they were committed to fighting corruption and held out the possibility that the law could be brought before the Assembly before the legislature went into recess before the July national election.
Om Yentieng, head of an anti-corruption unit established at the Council of Ministers in 2006, said Wednesday the government would accept the petition.
“We will not reject it,” he said, adding that officials were not dragging their feet on the anti-corruption law.
“We are running. We are not sleeping,” he said.
Hy Sophea, secretary of state at the Justice Ministry, said a draft of the long-awaited law has been forwarded to the Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations and Inspection, where officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Though first drafted in 1994, and made a donor benchmark in 2002, the draft anti-corruption law cannot be enacted until a draft penal code has first been adopted, Cambodian officials have claimed in recent years.
The draft penal code was reportedly completed by the Council of Ministers in December.
Sek Barisoth, director of the anti-corruption program at the NGO Pact Cambodia, said Wednesday he was skeptical about official explanations of the delay in enacting the law. Laws on military service and monogamy had been enacted before the adoption of the penal code, he said.
“The anti-corruption law could also be a law if they really wanted to do it,” he said. “The problems of corruption, everyone knows, affect society, particularly the poor and the weak.”
CPP Assembly Deputy President Nguon Nhel said Wednesday that lawmakers could meet during their vacations to discuss the law if the government requested it.
“To think that the government doesn’t have the will is not correct,” he said. “The law requires serious research, because it is an important law,” he said, adding that it would likely be enacted during the next government mandate.