Cambodia is scraping the bottom of Transparency International’s annual global corruption index, which ranks the nation significantly lower than all other countries in the region.
Cambodia is ranked 151 of 163 countries surveyed for the organization’s 12th annual Corruption Perceptions Index, which defines corruption as “the abuse of public office for private gain” and was released Monday.
Cambodia earned 2.1 points out of a possible 10, a score it shared with Belarus, Ivory Coast, Uzbekistan and Equatorial Guinea.
With the exception of Burma, which came 160th, Cambodia’s position is the lowest of any Asean nation in the index.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the ranking was based on information supplied only by Cambodia’s critics, such as the World Bank, and did not include any data from the Cambodian government.
“It is normal that the classification on Cambodia and many countries in the world got this erratic rating from year to year,” Khieu Kanharith wrote in an e-mail.
“If you consider the success on AIDS fighting, many successes on many diseases, 1 percent on poverty alleviation per year, the average economic growth and the stability of the country, you can have [a] better image of this country,” he wrote.
Singapore ranked fifth in the index. Thailand ranked 63 rd and Laos and Vietnam both ranked 111th.
Finland, Iceland and New Zealand shared the top spot, with a score of 9.6, while Haiti, which scored 1.8, came in last place.
Cambodia’s ranking is based on a compilation of data from six of 12 independent sources used to compile the index, which include the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Country Risk Service and Country Forecast, which is part of the Economist magazine.
Data in the Transparency International survey also includes responses in surveys of resident and non-resident country analysts and business people.
Transparency International specifically warns against comparing rankings between years. However, in only its second appearance on the list, Cambodia dropped 21 places from its 2005 ranking, when it scored 2.3 points.
Officials at Transparency International headquarters in Berlin, Germany, did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.
Theary Seng, executive director of the Center For Social Development, which is set to become Transparency International’s national chapter in Cambodia, said the reasons for the poor ranking are not difficult to understand.
“In light of the World Bank scandal, in light of the lack of an anticorruption law after all these years, and all the procurement that is not transparent, all that amounts to the new ranking,” she said.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen who heads a Council of Ministers anticorruption body created in August, dismissed the index as “politically biased.”
“The rankings are biased in nature and are not neutral,” he said.
He also said he suspected Transparency International gains financially from publishing negative assessments of countries like Cambodia.
Om Yentieng refused to discuss how many complaints about corruption his new anticorruption body had received since its first meeting in September.
However, RCAF Major General Dom Hak, who is also a member of the anti-corruption body, said the new body is preparing a crackdown on cross-border car smuggling.
“There will be a big operation coming soon,” he said.
“We will be doing this without concern for position and who [the suspects] are,” he maintained.
Tim Smyth, managing director of the market research firm Indochina Research, said his clients say corruption in Cambodia is a hindrance but not prohibitive.
“Everyone knows that corruption exists but we have an economy that is growing at a good rate. [Corruption] is more of an impediment to maximizing business,” he said.
The International Monetary Fund announced in May that Cambodia’s economy grew by 13.1 percent in 2005, it’s strongest growth rate since 1991.
“The business community are voting with their feet. Businesses tend to look at business opportunities for their business. Those feet aren’t walking out, they’re coming in,” Smyth said.