The head of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) said Thursday that the body’s jurist group had begun drafting a new law to protect witnesses and whistleblowers who come forward with information about graft and other crimes.
Om Yentieng, chairman of the ACU, said the proposed law would not be limited only to those who approached his body with information, but would protect a wide range of individuals who assist authorities in investigations. Mr. Yentieng initially said the ACU had plans to draft such a law in November.
“This law for protection of witnesses and whistleblowers is not just being written for graft cases. Instead, we are making a law covering all issues, including anti-corruption, anti-terrorism, anti-human trafficking and other criminal offenses,” Mr. Yentieng said, adding that work on the law began Thursday.
“The working group is starting the drafting process by working and discussing with many stakeholders locally and outside the country,” he said. “Furthermore, we are viewing laws from other countries as well.”
He declined to elaborate on who, exactly, would be consulted.
Asked when the draft law would be complete, Mr. Yentieng said there was no specific deadline, but that he trusted that the working group would proceed at a brisk pace.
“We believe that our team is a team that works fast,” he said.
While Mr. Yentieng claimed that provisions already existed in the criminal code to protect witnesses and whistleblowers, he said that a separate law would bolster public confidence in coming forward with information on criminal activities.
Pech Pisey, director of programs at Transparency International Cambodia, lauded the ACU’s decision to draft the law, saying the country’s anti-corruption efforts would be stifled if such legislation was not passed.
“This is strongly needed,” Mr. Pisey said. “To ensure the anti-corruption law is enforced very effectively, and to ensure that the anti-corruption strategy is successful, [the ACU] needs participation from the public.”
“Individuals need to be able to come forward and give evidence without fear of retaliation.”
Mr. Pisey said that while he was unaware of any provisions in the criminal code protecting whistleblowers and witnesses, the protections laid out in the 2010 Anti-Corruption Law were inadequate.
“There is some very vague sentences and terms in the provisions in the Anti-Corruption Law that mention the whistleblower protections, but they are very weak and not very specific,” he said.
Article 13 of the law states that ACU officials should “take necessary measures to keep whistleblowers secure.” Article 41, however, adds that individuals who file complaints deemed to be defamatory, or which lead to a “useless inquiry,” face imprisonment.
Senior opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said there was no point in drafting a new law unless Article 41 was repealed.
“That article must be removed,” he said. “If you want people’s participation in the process, you cannot have an article to punish people who are acting as whistleblower.”
Mr. Chhay added that a whistleblower protection law would also be ineffective unless changes were made to the ACU’s leadership, noting Mr. Yentieng’s involvement in a regime that has long been derided for systemic corruption.
Before his appointment to head the ACU, Mr. Yentieng served as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“You are appointed by the government and you are going to investigate government members—that is impossible,” Mr. Chhay said. “Om Yentieng must go, in simple words.”