Cambodia Retains Its Reputation for Corruption

Cambodia continues to rank among the most corrupt countries in the world and much needs to be done to enforce the Anti-Corruption Law and investigate allegations of corruption, Transparency International (T.I.) Cambodia said yesterday.

According to T.I.’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Cambodia ranked 157th among 176 countries and territories listed, with a score of just 22 out of 100—a slight improvement on last year’s ranking of 164.

“The CPI score for 2012 indicates that Cambodia is still perceived as a highly corrupt country,” T.I. said in a statement.

“For corruption to be reduced in Cambodia there is a need for further progress in the enforcement of the Anti-Corruption Law and an increase in the capacity and outreach of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to effectively investigate corruption cases and bring them to court.”

Transparency also said the government needs to pass an Access to Information Law in order to make the state budget and other important financial decisions made by the government more transparent and “improve the effectiveness of the anti-corruption law enforcement.”

The Central African Republic and war-torn Syria fared better than Cambodia on the index, with joint rankings of 144. Mexico, in which a long-running and grisly drug war has claimed thousands of lives, also rated higher, ranking 105th in the world. Regionally, only Laos (160/21) and Burma (172/15) fared worse than Cambodia.

Neighboring Thailand was ranked 88th with a score of 37, while Vietnam came 123rd with 31 points. Among the Asean member nations, Brunei was judged the “cleanest,” with a rank of 46th and score of 55.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the report, Preap Kol, executive director of T.I.’s Cambodia office, likened corruption to HIV, saying that it infected many levels of society from education and health services to human rights and the judicial system.

Mr. Kol added that Cambodians “should have access to decent health care and education without paying bribes and fees.”

In a statement, T.I. Board of Directors Chairman Rath Sophal said law enforcement is crucial to minimizing corruption.

“Fighting corruption requires unwavering political will and determination of the government in terms of having an adequate legal framework and governance mechanisms that minimize the opportunity for corruption along with consistent enforcement,” he said.

Since its inception in 2010, the ACU has received hundreds of complaints detailing allegations of corruption, though only four arrests have been made so far. The most high profile of the arrests was Moek Dara, former head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, who is serving life in prison on a raft of drug trafficking and bribery charges.

When asked how the ACU could improve, Mr. Kol said it is suffering from a lack of capacity.

“They don’t have the full capacity to investigate those cases,” Mr. Kol said. He also said he questioned the independence of the unit, which once had a statue of Prime Minister Hun Sen in its courtyard, but removed the effigy as it apparently displeased the prime minister.

Mr. Kol said corruption also impacted the economic sector and investment in particular. “If a company pays a bribe, they can be subject to sanctions in their own countries,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the T.I. scorecard results were encouraging, but not reflective of the situation on the ground.

“I hope everyone on Earth understands that Cambodia is in a state of transformation,” he said. “We are reforming throughout the hierarchy of the government agencies. We should reform because the government will be a better service provider. That’s our goal.”

Mr. Siphan cited the ACU and the Anti-Corruption Law as examples of the effort the government has made to clean up graft, but said that all levels of society from government to NGOs needed to work together to stamp out the problem.

“It’s the government’s intention to fight corruption and change people’s mindsets.”

Mr. Siphan also noted that corruption in the U.S., which is ranked 19th on this year’s list, was the primary catalyst for the global financial crisis, but that Washington had a “sophisticated system” to deal with it.

Thun Saray, president of rights group Adhoc, said corruption pervades many tiers of society, but that the “poor and vulnerable” are affected the most.

“It creates more unhappiness of the people, and also creates social instability if we allow this kind of disease,” he said. “I think we have to acknowledge it and continue to collaborate to fight this social problem.”

David Carter, CEO of Infinity Insurance and president of the Australian Business Association, said Cambodia had come a long way in terms of its development, and that many developing countries wrestle with the problem of corruption.

“If you look at where the place has come from to here, it’s no surprise that corruption still remains an issue,” Mr. Carter said. “But it has improved dramatically in that time…and that might not be apparent in [the] report.”

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