The first 14 officers of the new Anticorruption Unit were sworn in yesterday, marking the formal inauguration of the unit’s operations 16 years after an anticorruption mechanism was first conceived of in a draft law.
After they had taken an oath administered by Court of Appeal Deputy President Chuon Sunleng, in which they swore to discharge their duties with dignity and honesty, the new officers were vested with judicial police powers and authorized to begin investigating corruption immediately.
During the 20-minute ceremony, Anticorruption Unit President Om Yentieng also took a special oath on behalf of his subordinates, swearing to uphold the law at risk of being bitten by tigers or snakes, struck by lightning or living in poverty and suffering for his next 500 lives.
Judge Sunleng reminded the officers that as judicial police, they were now by law working under the supervision of Court of Appeal Prosecutor-General Ouk Savuth.
“His Excellency the prosecutor-general has the authority to monitor every judicial police officer, and he has the authority to monitor both the proper and improper actions of judicial police.”
Mr Savuth himself also addressed the new officers, urging them to continue their legal studies and to enforce the anticorruption law honestly and equitably.
“You should not work under grudges, hate or incitement from others,” he said. “We need justice, but justice is not for victims alone. Justice is for perpetrators too.”
According to the anticorruption law, which was passed by the National Assembly and Senate in March after a 16-year drafting process, the Anticorruption Unit is charged with investigating all suspected instances of corruption in Cambodia. The law said the unit must be fully operational by this month.
Speaking on the sidelines of the swearing-in, Mr Yentieng said the unit would eventually appoint additional officers but that it currently had the capacity to train only 14. He declined to say how many officers would later be chosen or to explain how the current 14 were decided on.
He said the unit had drafted documents outlining its operations, including a financial management plan and a two-year plan that sets goals for the body’s progress over the next 24 months.
Mr Yentieng also said the ACU had included proposed salaries for its officers in its draft financial plan. He said they would make slightly more than National Assembly lawmakers, although he declined to disclose the exact figure until the draft was sent to the government for approval.
“We believe that our salary is a bit special, but we do not want to compare to lawmakers…. It will be a bit higher,” he said. Lawmakers in the National Assembly currently earn $1,000 per month, according to SRP parliamentarian Yim Sovann.
The unit has also completed a draft sub-decree on asset declaration, which Mr Yentieng said in June was one of the first tasks he would tackle in his new post. The anticorruption law mandates that government, judicial and civil society leaders privately declare their assets, and roughly 100,000 people are expected to be required to do so by November.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said yesterday that the oath was only meaningful insofar as the officers carried it out faithfully.
“This swearing-in is just a ceremony, but if they have enough support, means and ability, it will be good.”
But, he added, if the officers do not carry out their mandate, “it will be like a comedy in which they return to the place where they took the oath and try to scrub the oath.”