In two public statements and at a news conference on Tuesday, the Cambodian government vigorously rejected the US ambassador’s recent claim that the country loses up to $500 million of public money each year to corruption, and called on the ambassador to retract her comment.
At a concert at Olympic Stadium on Saturday, US Ambassador Carol Rodley called for the government to speed up the passage of anticorruption legislation, and said that corruption is affecting Cambodia’s ability to respond to the global economic crisis, and is depriving the country of much-needed assets such as schools.
Senior Minister and head of the government’s anticorruption unit Om Yentieng held a news conference Tuesday calling for Ms Rodley to publicly retract her claim.
“We regard this speech as irresponsible,” the minister said. “We can’t accept her statement, and we don’t understand her statement.”
Mr Yentieng added that he believed the ambassador’s remarks were based on inaccurate studies.
“Cambodia has corruption, but less than NGOs and other countries, because according to the figures that they raised, [Cambodia] would have sunk already,” he said.
He also reiterated the government’s position that it will not pass anticorruption legislation un-
til the new penal code is in place, and added that he expected the latter piece of legislation to reach the Council of Ministers in “a few weeks.”
“If the anticorruption draft law isn’t working following the penal code draft law, I will resign from the anticorruption law unit,” Mr Yentieng promised.
However, Mr Yentieng de-
clined to give a deadline for his promise, and added that he was not sure when the anticorruption law, which has been awaited since the mid-1990s, would be complete.
The Council of Ministers re-
leased its own statement Tues-
day, expressing its “sadness” over the ambassador’s comment on corruption.
In that statement, the council denied Ms Rodley’s dollar figure on corruption, “which used groundless and unofficial information, which we regard as an exaggeration, and which can confuse the national and international community.”
In a third, strongly worded denial on Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in which the ministry wish-
ed “to remind that all members of the diplomatic corps must maintain their neutrality and re-
frain from interfering in the internal affairs of Cambodia. This is the most basic principle of international relations.”
The ministry’s statement, which was sent to all diplomatic missions in Cambodia, also claim-
ed that Ms Rodley’s corruption figures were based on a “biased assessment” from the Economic Institute of Cambodia, an organization, the ministry claims, that has “the real intention to publicly defame and discredit the Royal Government of Cambodia.”
EIC President Sok Hach could not be reached for comment.
However, US Embassy spokes-
man John Johnson confirmed Monday that Ms Rodley had in fact derived the $500 million figure from a 2004 study prepared by the US Agency for Inter-
national Development, which at-
tributed that information to unnamed informants.
When asked about the government’s angry response to the ambassador’s speech, Mr John-
son said Tuesday, “We don’t have any further comment.”
On Monday, Don Bowser, chief of staff for NGO Pact’s Main-
streaming Anticorruption for Equity project, said that there are no “hardcore scientific data” related to the amount of money lost in Cambodia to corruption.