The government’s anticorruption law breezed through the National Assembly without alteration yesterday, after opposition SRP lawmakers staged a walk-out before the end of proceedings to highlight their dismay that proposed amendments to the law had not been considered.
Debate on the draft law, which was first proposed more than 15 years ago and only released to lawmakers last Thursday, lasted just a day and a half.
“We will not be participating in the debating anymore for we do not want to waste time to do the advocating without any change,” the SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann told reporters during a break in the Assembly’s extraordinary session.
“We believe that this law will not be used effectively. This law is just to lobby the [international] donors and for hiding the corruption of officers,” Mr Sovann said. The SRP lawmakers left after Chapter Four of the draft law was ratified.
The last five chapters then passed with virtually no debate among the 82 majority CPP lawmakers present.
The SRP had earlier requested amendments to Article 16 from Chapter Three, and Article 20 from Chapter Four.
During proceedings, SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said Article 16 should be changed to ensure that the budget of the proposed national Anticorruption Agency came under the control of the Assembly, not the Council of Ministers.
SRP lawmaker Kimsour Phirith argued that Article 20 should be changed so that the declared assets of public officials are made known to the public.
Mr Phirith also said that Cambodians should be encouraged to complain to authorities about corruption without the fear of retribution.
Cabinet Minister Sok An, the government’s representative at the Assembly, called SRP representatives “destructive” for raising the issue of the public declaration of assets, twice calling on the “opposition to stop raising such ideas and creating public confusion.”
Mr Sok An mentioned many democratic countries around the world where the public declaration of assets was not always required.
Both of the SRP’s proposed amendments were voted down by the CPP.
Mr Sovann told the Assembly that the key element required to fight corruption was political will, directly calling on Mr Sok An to release the editor of SRP-affiliated newspaper Khmer Mchas Srok editor Hang Chakra, who was jailed after publishing a story alleging corruption at the Council of Ministers.
“If your excellency could forgive the corrupted person, you may release corruption critics like Hang Chakra,” Mr Sovann said.
“If the corruption occurred in the Council of Ministers, we do not know what to do because the anticorruption unit is controlled by the Council of Ministers,” he added.
After the SRP boycotted the remainder of the debate, Mr Sok An criticized their actions.
“This is the National Assembly progressing, but [the SRP members] were elected by the people” and should be here, he told reporters on the sidelines of the Assembly.
At the end of the session of the Assembly, Mr Sok An said the law that had been adopted was an important “sharp tool” for fighting corruption in Cambodia.
Yesterday afternoon, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he believed the anticorruption law would not be implemented until December 2011.
“So I think this law will remain [as is] for two years until December 2011, when it will be carried out,” Mr Yeap said.
Mr Yeap maintained that the “international community, civil society and NGOs” had been involved in the drafting of the law, and dangled the possibility of amendments once the law is implemented.
“As this law is carried out in the future, amendments [could be] considered,” he said.
Leaders of Cambodia’s non-governmental organizations said they were resigned to the outcome.
“I am very disappointed,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“I am not disappointed that there is a law, I am disappointed with the process in which it was adopted. This followed what the government wanted-to pass the law in two days. And I am disappointed that the standard of the law is low.”
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, called on the government to make sure that the law is implemented as effectively as possible.
“I think we can not do anything to change this law now,” he said.
“Now I would ask the government to try and make sure they implement this law fairly and effectively.”
Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun agreed with Mr Saray.
“It is passed now. It is over,” Mr Sam Oeun said.
“The Prime Minister is now responsible in making sure the law is used fairly.”