The National Assembly will ratify the anti-corruption law before the end of the year, in one of the final steps toward making government officials legally obliged to declare their assets, Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations and Inspection Secretary of State Leng Peng Long said Thursday.
The long-awaited law will also establish an independent anti-corruption body to investigate, arrest and detain those suspected of corruption, Leng Peng Long said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen “has stressed that good governance requires the reduction of corrupt activities to as low as possible,” Leng Peng Long told students, donor representatives and journalists at an anti-corruption workshop organized by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and the NGO Pact Cambodia.
Leng Peng Long declined to discuss the details of the law, but a provisional draft obtained July 7 states that anyone who refuses to declare his assets will be liable to a prison sentence of two to five years.
Government officials found to have taken bribes will face prison sentences ranging in length from one month to 15 years, according to the draft, dated May 18.
Asian Development Bank country director Shyam Bajpai said he was optimistic the law will be ratified on time.
“I don’t see a lot of problems in putting it through,” he said.
“There is no reason why the citizens of Cambodia should accept lesser [anti-corruption] standards than those of any other countries,” he added.
Jonathan Addleton, mission director of the US Agency for International Development Cambodia, stressed that bodies established to investigate corruption need to be independent, and should have autonomous budgets.
He added that whistle-blowers on corruption need to be legally protected.
Contacted Thursday, So Khun, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, said he would declare his assets if the law is passed.
“I am not afraid because it is the law,” he said. “We want the country to advance…so we must fight corruption.”
Asked if co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, who inhabits a sprawling mansion on Norodom Boulevard, would be willing to declare his assets, ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Sar Kheng is “not here.”
Khieu Sopheak added that he had no knowledge of the details of the law.
Tea Banh, co-minister of Defense, Ith Sam Heng, minister of Social Affairs, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, and Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen, all said they were too busy to speak to a reporter Thursday.
Ke Kim Yan, RCAF commander in chief, and Lu Laysreng, minister of Rural Development, could not be reached for comment. Ouk Savouth, Phnom Penh Municipal Court chief prosecutor, hung up on a reporter.
One senior Interior Ministry official said he would welcome the law. “An honest person should know how to declare their wealth,” he said on condition of anonymity, adding that the law would likely boost faith in the government among investors and the public.
US President George W Bush “files his income tax every year…
and [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair does the same. I see no shame in declaring your assets,” the official said. “It’s a normal procedure.”
Mike Davis of Global Witness said the law needs to ensure that relatives of government officials also have to reveal their assets.
“If [the assets of corrupt officials] are not in the names of their spouses or offspring, they very soon will be,” he said.
Phnom Penh residents said Thursday that they were keen for the law to be installed.
“[Corruption] is so deep within the infrastructure of institutions, we can find no way to dig it out,” said Var Bunnthan, who works for a private security firm.
Officials “take money from all sorts of things. Crime, aid money,” said Pov Vanny, a photographer at Wat Phnom. “For example, if money is given to build a road, only 30 percent is used and the quality of the road is not good.”
But he said it was difficult to say whether a new law on corruption will be obeyed, or if officials will bribe their way out of corruption charges.
“Most of the time the law is just obeyed by lower people. Upper people don’t [usually] obey the law,” he said.