Cambodia continues to be perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt countries and is considered the worst in terms of public-sector corruption among its Asean counterparts, according to Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which was published Tuesday.
Cambodia, alongside Eritrea and Venezuela, came 160th out of 177 countries and territories in terms of perceived corruption in the public sector, with a score of just 20. A score of 100 represented the “cleanest” countries in terms of corruption.
Cambodia’s ranking as the 17th most corrupt country in the world marks a fall of three places from its 2012 ranking of 157, when it scored 22 points, which was a slight improvement from its 2011 score of 19.
“The 2013 ranking confirms that the public sector in Cambodia continues to be perceived as highly corrupt,” Transparency International Cambodia (TIC) said in a statement at the launch of the index in Phnom Penh.
Regionally speaking, Cambodia fell two places among Asean member countries to occupy the lowest spot, while Burma saw its score rise from 15 last year to 21 this year. Laos also improved its score from 21 to 26. Vietnam came in at 116th place with a score of 31, while Singapore fared the best at fifth place with 86.
Sophoan Rath, chairman of TIC’s board of directors, referred to the problem of corruption in Cambodia as a “hideous crime” that must be dealt with by actions instead of words.
“This year’s result continues to indicate that corruption is a major problem that negatively impacts the daily lives of Cambodian citizens and has serious consequences for Cambodia’s economic competitiveness,” Mr. Sophoan said in the statement.
“While it is encouraging to hear the highest level of Cambodia’s government reiterating their commitment to tackle corruption, corrupt practices will continue and become even more entrenched unless rhetoric is matched by actions. Acknowledgement and commitment are not enough,” he said.
“Substantial reform must be taken in order to fight this hideous crime.”
TIC acknowledged that “the Government has demonstrated a commitment to respond to the growing demands of Cambodia’s citizens and we remain optimistic that Cambodia is headed towards a more transparent and accountable future.”
It pointed to a number of government-led efforts to stamp out corruption, including the work of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) and the introduction of official public fees at government ministries.
Cambodia’s position on the CPI was determined based on the findings of seven statistical data sources, including reports from the World Economic Forum, the World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Denmark is perceived as the “cleanest” country this year, with a score of 91, followed by New Zealand, Finland and Sweden.
Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan tied for last place, with scores of 8, while Cambodia fell immediately behind Burma, Burundi and Zimbabwe, which landed in 157th place with 21 points.
The TIC board members said that one of the ways Cambodia could offset its dismal reputation would be to pass the long-awaited and much-called for Freedom of Information law, a draft of which was rejected by the National Assembly in January.
“This measure will provide the public with the rights and mechanisms to participate more actively in the fight against corruption and therefore helps the government to achieve better results,” TIC said.
At the same time, the TIC board took note of a proposed cyber law that rights groups say would restrict freedom of speech, particularly on social-networking sites, and urged the government instead to focus on introducing legal protections for whistle-blowers who expose corruption.
Chhay Savuth, vice chairman of the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, was defiant about the efforts that have been made to tackle the issue.
“It is their right to mention that Cambodia is ranked badly corrupt, but Cambodia has been developing, such as the construction of schools and bridges,” Mr. Savuth said.
“If we had corruption, how could this all happen? We can see it with our own eyes together,” he added, before declining to comment further.
Several health officials were last month exposed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as having been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks—one of the most recent examples of deeply engrained corruption at a high level.
Just last week, the ACU also swooped on three state utility and tax officials in two separate cases of forgery and bribe taking.
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)