The government unleashed its latest initiative to combat crime this week by offering cash rewards for police who arrest criminals—a move human rights groups characterized as “bombastic.”
At Prime Minister Hun Sen’s urging, the municipal government will reward police officers, who earn about $15 a month, with roughly $130 for netting a serious offender and $80 for pickpockets.
Moreover, the government will grant about $260 to any of the city’s seven police districts that arrest 10 suspects in a week.
“This is Phnom Penh’s way of supporting our work, not buying our work,” Municipal Police Chief Sourn Chhengly asserted. “Notoriously corrupt police officers have now been warned to stop taking bribes from criminals.”
The move came out of a municipal security meeting after Hun Sen spoke of rewarding police during a speech last week, municipal officials said.
It also comes as part of a widespread criminal- reform effort by Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara to oust judges who allegedly take bribes and a directive by Hun Sen to rearrest criminals who allegedly paid their way out of punishment.
Since the crackdown began early this month, two top municipal court officials have been suspended and roughly 50 alleged criminals or suspects rearrested.
Critics of government corruption, however, say high courts and legal councils should handle judicial reform—not the executive branch. They also stress that raising civil servants’ salaries would go a long way toward ending corruption and bribe-taking.
Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said the new police reward plan could only encourage more wrongdoing.
He said establishing any sort of quota will move the emphasis away from lawful arrests and “punish innocent people.”
“This is not solving crime—not at all,” Lao Mong Hay said. “It’s only creating more problems.
“It seems our leaders like to take this bombastic approach: They get criticized for not doing something, so they stand up and say, ‘Look, we’re doing it.’ But it’s just piecemeal. It’s not addressing the whole problem,” he said.
Lao Mong Hay suggested the government take a more holistic approach to solving crime, for instance empowering prosecutors to enact widespread reforms.
He also questioned where a cash-strapped government will come up with the funds to dole out rewards every time police nab a criminal.
But Chea Sophara said the municipal government’s security fund is well equipped to fund the new plan, which he defended as necessary to end collusion be-tween criminals and police.
“If we don’t reward them this way, they don’t care,” Chea Sophara said Monday. “We could not afford to give raises to the whole country.”
While analysts admit that crime should be addressed, they warn that current efforts may be a Band-Aid approach.
“We have two ways to think,” said Kem Sokha, chairman of the Senate’s human rights committee.
“One is about the reality of the situation…The Cambodian people are angry about crime—especially about the increase in kidnapping. But legally, the executive branch cannot just make these orders to the court and to the police. They have to have respect for the law.”