As Apsara dancers performed under strobe lights to thumping music Tuesday, five companies signed a symbolic commitment with the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to work to help rid the country of graft.
At a ceremony to mark International Anti-Corruption Day, the five companies—Loran group, a rice miller; Pactics, a manufacturer of eyewear accessories; Aprati Foods, a confectionary maker; Herbalife, a nutrition company, and Mega Leasing, a consumer finance company—joined Coca-Cola and Prudential by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) pledging not to tolerate unofficial business practices.
“We require the companies to promise to us clearly that they will tell their staff not to bribe; to inform us…when any officials take bribes; regularly organize workshops to show that they work cleanly and so on—not just sign the MoU,” Om Yentieng, chairman of the ACU, said on the sidelines of the event at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.
Despite making a slight gain in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index released last week, Cambodia still ranks 156 out of 175 countries surveyed.
Speaking after the ceremony, Pactics president Piet Holten said he hoped more firms would join the initiative, and that it would eventually put an end to money being siphoned off as bribes in business transactions.
“We have to start somewhere. This country cannot develop and we cannot do right to the people in this country when all kinds of money ends up in pockets where [it doesn’t] really belong,” he said.
But Mr. Holten was unsure of what tangible change the agreement could effect. “I don’t know, I just signed it today, so I hope it’s going to help,” he said.
Bretton Sciaroni, chairman of the International Business Chamber of Cambodia, said there has been “tremendous” interest from companies to become a signatory to the MoU, which he admitted was open to interpretation when it came to implementation.
“Anybody can sign the MoU whether they use it or not to fight corruption—it’s up to the individual company, but it is a mechanism, a tool, for them to use,” he said.
And ACU vice chairman Chhay Savuth said companies are not required to reveal financial information to join the initiative.
“They don’t need to submit any documents like financial statements or other papers. The MoU just requires them to join us in fighting corruption. They must never bribe, but must inform us if any official asks for [a] bribe. And if they bribe, we will also arrest them,” he said.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, wrote in an email he welcomed private-sector action to reduce corruption, but was unsure of the effectiveness of the ACU’s MoU.
“It is very difficult…to assess how much weight these MoUs carry as the process is not fully transparent—the long-term goals of these MoUs and how they will benefit the general business environment in Cambodia has not been clearly expressed,” he said.