Council of Ministers Defends Gov’t Corruption Probe Directive

The Council of Ministers on Monday convened a press conference to defend a directive circulated this month telling government officials to seek clearance from their superiors before providing information to lawmakers investigating corruption claims.

The directive was blasted by opposition lawmakers including CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, who was quoted in local media as saying that it violated Article 96 of the Constitution, which lays out the right of lawmakers to request information from government institutions.

However, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Tek Reth Samrech, who issued the directive on June 5 and held the press conference Monday, said the guidelines he set forth were in line with both the Constitution and Anti-Corruption Law.

Mr. Reth Samrech said the circular was meant to inform civil servants how to respond to National Assembly inquiries, which have become increasingly common since the CNRP ended its boycott of parliament last year, partly in exchange for control of five parliamentary commissions including a newly created anti-corruption commission.

“We should have a legal guideline for low officials…because before we never had lawmakers visit some institutions about actions of low officials. This is the first time,” he said.

“This guideline was just made to instruct government officials to ensure that the low officials understand and have enough information before answering, or they are able to ask for ideas from the upper levels to collect enough information to respond to the lawmakers,” he added.

“I wish to state that His Excellency Son Chhay is a lawmaker, but he doesn’t understand the meaning of Article 96 of the Constitution.”

The June 5 statement tells civil servants to ask for permission from their superiors before responding to lawmakers looking into corruption allegations, and tells civil servants to adhere to Article 22 of the Anti-Corruption Law, which gives the Anti-Corruption Unit authority over graft investigations.

Contacted Monday, Mr. Chhay said the Council of Ministers, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, had disrespected the National Assembly with its directive and ensuing press conference.

“We demand that the Council of Ministers apologize because they used words that looked down on the National Assembly,” he said.

“If the Council of Ministers refuses to apologize, we will summon Mr. Sok An to give an explanation at the National Assembly.”

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