Corruption costs Cambodia as much as $500 million each year in lost revenue, US Ambassador Carol Rodley said during a speech at an anti-corruption concert on Saturday at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium.
In her speech, the ambassador pushed for the Cambodian government to pass long-delayed anti-corruption legislation, which first reached the National Assembly in 1994. She said that such a law could only help the country survive the global economic crisis.
“Countries that govern justly and democratically and are actively combating corruption will feel fewer effects of the global recession and will recover and return to prosperity more quickly,” Ms Rodley said, according to a transcript of the speech obtained Monday.
“I urge the Cambodian government to deliver on its promise to enact the anti-corruption law,” she continued.
The ambassador compared the money lost from government coffers to cash that could have been spent on public services.
“Five hundred million is equivalent to the cost of constructing 20,000 six-room school buildings or the ability to pay every civil servant in Cambodia an additional $260 per month,” she said.
Although Ms Rodley did not give a source for the $500 million figure, she said that information was derived from “various studies.”
Embassy spokesman John Johnson said by e-mail Monday that the US embassy had no further comment about the speech.
However, he confirmed that the $500 million figure was derived from a 2004 study prepared by the US Agency for International Development. That study attributed an estimated loss of between $300 million and $500 million from the public purse to information obtained from unnamed informants.
Saturday’s “clean hand” concert, which featured music, comedy and a fashion show, was organized by the NGO Pact Cambodia.
Don Bowser, chief of staff for Pact’s Mainstreaming Anti-Corruption for Equity project, said Monday that “we don’t have any hardcore scientific data” on public losses from corruption.
He added that Pact would soon be conducting a study in which members of focus groups would be asked how much they normally pay in bribes, to whom and how often.
He added that the government is obligated to pass anti-corruption legislation as soon as possible.
“They’ve committed many, many times that they would pass this legislation,” Mr Bowser said. “We’re pushing for it, but there haven’t been any hopeful signs.”
Earlier this month, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap defended the delay of the anti-graft law as necessary because of concerns brought up by NGOs and international organizations. “It has been pushed back and forth,” he said.
The lawmaker added that people would find loopholes in any anti-corruption legislation by simply dividing up assets among their children.
At the time, Som Kimsour, Minister of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspections, said that the long-awaited law had been drafted, but was awaiting passage of a new penal code before it could be completed.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on either law’s progress Monday, and referred questions to Om Yentieng, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee. Mr Yentieng could not be reached for comment Monday.