Cambodia Has Among Highest Levels of Graft

Almost half of Cambodian families have paid bribes in the last year, as did a whopping three quarters of those who dealt with the country’s judicial system, according to an international corruption survey released Tuesday.

Forty-seven percent of Cambodians surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 corruption barometer said that someone in their household paid some form of bribe in the last year. Only Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cameroon had higher rates of reported graft.

The prevalence of petty bribery in low-income countries like Cam-

bodia is “compounding the already difficult situation of low-income households, as jobs and income dwindle in the economic downturn,” a press release accompanying the Transparency International survey said.

The survey was based on

face-to-face interviews with 1,019 Cambodians in December. The TI report did not specify the amount of money involved in the bribes.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, a mere 10 percent of people reported paying bribes in the last year. Only Indonesia came close to Cambodia, with 29 percent reporting that a household member has paid a bribe.

When asked to identify the most corrupt sector in the country, 62 percent of Cambodians interviewed by Transparency pointed to the judiciary, and 74 percent of people who had dealt with the judicial system said that a member of their family had paid bribes.

In second place in the corruption perception stakes, 23 percent of those interviewed said public officials and civil servants, followed by political parties, businesses and parliament, which all scored in the single digits.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan did not dispute the country’s high prevalence of bribery when contacted by telephone Wednesday.

“No one understands exactly what’s going on with that one,” he said, but stressed that, “The government pays much attention about reform.”

He said that the government’s draft law on anti-corruption, which has been promised since the 1990s, and the establishment of an anticorruption unit, are proof that the government is working to crack down on graft by public officials.

Mr Siphan acknowledged that some members of the Cambodian judicial system take bribes, but added, “All the lawyers and all the judges are not corrupt. We have still a majority that are not corrupt.”

He stressed that Cambodia is not the only country dealing with corruption within the judiciary. “This is not a perfect world…. This corruption is epidemic in the world. We cannot run away from it”

An assistant for Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana referred questions to Phov Samphy, director-general for the ministry’s department of research and judicial development. Mr Samphy could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Despite the high rate of reported bribery in the country, 67 percent of Cambodians interviewed by Transparency said they believe the current government has been effective in combating corruption.

In contrast, only 2 percent of US residents reported paying bribes in 2008, but 73 percent felt their government was ineffective against corruption

Mr Siphan said he was pleased with Cambodians’ perception of the government’s anti-corruption efforts. “That is a message that shows the government’s support for fighting corruption,” he said.

The results of the Transparency survey were meant to be announced at a press conference today, organized by the NGO Pact Cambodia, but in an email Wednesday, the organization announced that the event would be “postponed until further notice.”

Pact Cambodia Country Director Paul Mason said by telephone Wednesday that he would not comment on the reason for the postponement, or whether it was influenced by the government’s strong response to a recent speech by US Ambassador Carol Rodley regarding corruption.

On Saturday, Ms Rodley said that Cambodia loses as much as $500 million in public money to corruption every year, funds that she said could have been used to support the country’s social services.

In response, Om Yentieng, head of the government’s anti-corruption unit, held a press conference Tuesday calling for the ambassador to retract her statement. The Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs both sent out terse statements rejecting Ms Rodley’s comment.

US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said Wednesday that he had no comment about the US embassy’s response.

Mr Yentieng could not be reached for comment on the Transparency report Wednesday.


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