It has gotten worse. Again.
For the third year running, perceived corruption has eroded Cambodia’s standing among the nations of the world, bringing the country below every one of its regional neighbors but Burma, Transparency International announced Tuesday.
In its annual survey unveiled in Berlin, the anti-corruption organization ranked Cambodia 166th of 180 countries and assigned it a score of 1.8 of a possible 10, down from 2 last year, 2.1 in 2006 and 2.3 in 2005.
This year’s score was shared with Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe but put Cambodia 15 places below Papua New Guinea, which scored a 2.
As with much foreign criticism, Cambodian officials have routinely dismissed the index, calling it biased, unfair and erroneous.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of the government’s anti-corruption committee, said Tuesday that Cambodia’s voters were the survey’s best rebuttal.
“The survey is not transparent. They look only at small and bad areas,” he said. “They have no goodwill toward the government despite the result of the voters’ judgment already,” he said in reference to the July national election, which saw Hun Sen’s ruling CPP win a landslide.
Om Yentieng said Cambodia had fought corruption through the application of the Untac-era penal code, but he declined to discuss specific anti-corruption actions.
“The government does it in a quiet way,” he said.
Though it had been below Cambodia in the 2007 Transparency International index, Laos rose this year by 0.1 to a score of 2. Vietnam and Thailand also saw marginal improvements to 2.7 and 3.5 respectively, while Indonesia rose 0.3 points to 2.7. Ranked fourth at 9.2, Singapore was down a tenth of a point.
A poll of polls, the Corruption Perceptions Index compiled data from 13 independent surveys of resident and non-resident businesspeople and country analysts who were questioned about bribery, kickbacks, bid-rigging and embezzlement by public officials.
Information on Cambodia was taken from seven such surveys, which are themselves conducted by organizations including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank as well as the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.
The government announced last month that a draft law to tackle corruption, which was first introduced to the National Assembly in 1994, would be adopted as a matter of priority in the new mandate along with a draft penal code, which has been completed.
However, Sek Barisoth, a program director at the anti-corruption NGO Pact Cambodia, said Tuesday that, if one looks at versions of the draft made public late last year, the proposed anti-corruption law was itself cause for concern.
Under the draft, a seven-member national council appointed by institutions such as the National Assembly, the Senate, the Supreme Council of the Magistracy and the Royal Palace is to appoint a secretary-general to direct the work of an anti-graft body, he said.
Concerns for the independence of that secretary-general led Pact Cambodia to suggest that the council only take an advisory role to the office of the secretary-general, Sek Barisoth said.
Possible criminal penalties for those who make false accusations and a lack of whistleblower protections could also dissuade members of the public from coming forward with evidence of corruption, he said.
“In fighting corruption everywhere in the world, we need public participation,” he said.
Officials at the Justice Ministry’s research and judicial development department could not be reached Tuesday, but Pierre Espieu, a French magistrate and technical assistant formerly tasked with studying whether the anti-corruption draft law was compatible with the penal procedures and penal codes, took issue with Pact’s concerns.
While virtually all legal systems provide penalties for defamation, Article 78 of the draft law provides prison terms of one to five years for violating the confidentiality of inquiries or exposing whistleblowers, Espieu said.
The independence of the proposed national council is aided by the diversity of the nominating bodies, which include the King, he added.
But even a perfect law does not assure perfect conduct, Espieu said.
“Drafting a text, however good it may be, does not guarantee proper practices,” he said.