For the first time since July’s landslide elections in favor of the CPP, the government met Tuesday with donor countries to discuss progress toward development benchmarks, including the 14-year process of drafting and adopting a law to prosecute public sector corruption.
Participants and observers said following the meeting at Government Palace that, while exchanges had been far less testy than at previous meetings, some found the government had still not given a clear impression of when the anti-corruption law—a donor benchmark since 2002 and the cause of donor hand-wringing at nearly every meeting since—may at last become a reality.
The government has twice announced since the elections that the draft law is complete and will be passed as a matter of priority in the current mandate, but also repeated that it cannot precede the adoption of a new penal code, which is still under construction and review.
Tuesday’s meeting, which included a rare appearance by Cabinet Minister Sok An, is the last before December’s annual aid-pledging conference. Last year, donors announced contributions of $690 million, though the tally for the first time included a $90 million Chinese contribution, which was largely credit.
Speaking on behalf of all donors, Japanese Ambassador Katsuhiro Shinohara said the international community was still waiting to see substance.
“Although we are removed from the process, we accept that 100 of the 700 articles in the penal code have undergone final review,” he said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “While we appreciate the effort, we must state that this progress does not yet rise to the level of meeting the four [benchmarks] that the government and partners have pledged to meet.”
Shinohara asked for a clear timeline and roadmap for adopting the penal code and anti-corruption law. However, several participants said following the meeting that government responses had been elaborate but had not formed a clear answer.
“In my opinion, the answers weren’t very satisfactory. There were a lot of details…but there wasn’t a great deal of specifics on where we go from here,” said an observer present in the room who requested anonymity.
A donor country representative agreed.
“At least it was the first time we can get some clear answers, but it remains to be seen what actually happens,” the representative said, also on condition of anonymity.
Donors at the meeting Tuesday were also given a written report on the activities of the government’s anti-corruption unit, which included the referral to criminal authorities of three of 60 corruption complaints received in the last two years in a drop box located at the Council of Ministers, while 19 remained under consideration and the rest were either dismissed or resolved.
The report touted administrative penalties meted out in 2006 to 39 Banteay Meanchey province officials over the irregular importation of right-hand drive vehicles and also last year’s arrests, dubbed “Operation Hennessey,” of Interior Ministry police Colonel Yim Neang and businessman Sri Muoyheang, who were both convicted in June this year of demanding a $380,000 bribe from an unknown mining company in return for permitting an environmental impact assessment to be carried out.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of the government’s anti-corruption unit, said Tuesday that adoption of the draft anti-corruption law would depend on lawmakers.
“We are not the National Assembly,” he said by telephone. “We cannot say when the law will be ratified.”
He also said that the penal code had to be tailored for use by Cambodia.
“We need a law that fits us. We do not want a law that doesn’t work,” he said, adding that the law would have to remain effective long after today’s foreign diplomats are gone.
“The port stays, but the ship goes out,” he added.