Opposition says still on faith in CPP-dominated body
Former Constitutional Council member Top Sam was elected as chairman of the 11-member National Council for Anticorruption at the council’s inaugural meeting yesterday.
As the makeup of the council was unveiled in front of reporters, Anticorruption Unit chairman Om Yentieng said that the first task for the Anticorruption Institution-comprising the supervisory anticorruption council and investigative anticorruption unit-would be to enforce the private declaration of assets by government, judicial and civil society leaders.
“The declaration of assets is the first work that the anticorruption [institution] needs to do,” Mr Yentieng said.
“The first work that the National Council for Anticorruption will do as a priority is to oversee the procedure for the declaration of assets in order to make the declaration go smoothly,” he said.
The Anticorruption Law states that, among other tasks, the national council is required to oversee the work of the investigative unit and report to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Before the closed-door vote for the election of Mr Sam as chairman, council member Heng Vong Bunchat announced that the other 10 members of the council were: Mr Sam, Mr Yentieng, Prak Sok, Kuy Sophal, Chan Tani, Uth Chhorn, Soum Kimsour, Chiv Keng, Keo Ramy and Suy Mong Leang.
According to the Anticorruption Law, each of the council members will be appointed for five-year terms that can be renewed.
Mr Sok, another former Constitutional Council member, was elected as vice-chair of the council at yesterday’s meeting.
According to the Anticorruption Law, now that the National Council for Anticorruption and Anticorruption Unit have been created, government, judicial and civil society leaders have 60 days to declare their assets and liabilities to the Anticorruption Unit.
Under Article 17 of the law, those who are required to declare their assets and liabilities include: members of the Senate; members of the National Assembly; members of the Royal Government; appointed public officials with a specific mandate; members of the National Council for Anticorruption; the chairperson, vice-chairperson and all officials of the Anticorruption Unit; civil servants, police, and military personnel appointed by Royal Decrees or Sub-decrees; other officials appointed by Prakas and decided by the Anticorruption Unit’s list of declaration on assets and liabilities; Judges, prosecutors, notary public, court clerks and bailiffs; and leaders of civil society.
Neither the government nor the Anticorruption Institution has given a definition of “leaders of civil society.”
The law stipulates that those required to declare their assets and liabilities should do so by enclosing two copies of their information in separate envelopes-one to be kept by the individual and the other by the Anticorruption Unit.
It also states that Mr Yentieng, as chairman of the Anticorruption Unit, can decide to open the envelopes during the course of an investigation as he sees fit.
Pung Chhiv Kek, president of local rights group Licadho, said by e-mail yesterday that she was willing to disclose her assets, if required by the Anticorruption Unit.
“I am a law abiding citizen and I will respect the law,” Ms Chhiv Kek wrote, adding that she was surprised by civil society leaders’ inclusion on the list of those required to declare their assets.
“It is very surprising, because usually civil society leaders are less likely to be corrupted!” she said.
Yim Sovann, SRP lawmaker and spokesman, said that he had nothing to hide and was more than happy to declare his assets to the Anticorruption Unit.
“I have no hesitation in declaring my assets,” he said. “What we want to see, however, is for all assets to be made public. In other countries, officials publicly declare their assets so everyone knows. In this country, this is not the case. I don’t think that anything should be hidden.”
Mr Sovann added that he did not believe that the new council, which is dominated by members of the ruling CPP, would be effective, because of its lack of independence.
“We did not support the law from the beginning because it did not allow for an independent council,” he said. “The members were chosen by CPP-dominated bodies.”
Yesterday’s meeting was held at the Council of Ministers and not the new headquarters for the Anticorruption Institution at the former military high command headquarters on Norodom Boulevard, where a roughly five-meter-high statue of a man, still covered in red protective cloth, has recently been erected at the front entrance.
A security guard stationed at the front gate, who declined to be named yesterday, said that the statue-which is still under wraps-is a likeness of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mr Yentieng and other government officials said they were not aware of the statue, when contacted yesterday.
Mr Yentieng said yesterday that the Anticorruption Unit had already employed 60 staff members and was looking to employ 60 more in the next three months.
“We already have opened some investigations related to forestry crimes and others, but we can not say what those cases are,” he said.
During a press conference after the announcement of the new council members, the chairman, Mr Sam, was asked how effective the council would be at tackling corruption, given most of its members are aligned with the CPP.
“The members…were chosen based on the Anticorruption Law,” Mr Sam responded.
“I believe the members have an obligation to obey the law. So for the results- you must wait an see our operation.”