Draft law on anti-corruption considers NGO employees public servants, requires personal assets declared
The long-awaited draft law on anticorruption, which was passed in a Council of Ministers meeting two weeks ago, requires staff of non-governmental organizations to declare their personal assets, Council of Ministers Spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed on Friday.
Mr Siphan said the provision applies to NGO workers because, like government officials, they are defined as public servants.
“A public servant is anyone who provides the service to the public, and NGO workers are a public service provider,” Mr Siphan said on Friday.
“Why does it need to force [NGO workers] to declare individual property? Because NGO workers are officers providing public services with budgets provided by their members,” he said.
“[This provision] is not aimed at attacking NGOs,” Mr Siphan added. “Government officials and public servants are under the jurisdiction of this law. NGO officers might violate their own power.”
Many government officials and members of non-governmental organizations involved with anti-corruption efforts have lamented the fact that they have not yet seen the draft law passed two weeks ago. And the provision for NGO workers is one of the only details of the anti-corruption draft law that has been made known to the public.
Several NGO officials said they welcomed their inclusion in the law and declaration of their personal assets, but denied that they were in the same category as government officials.
“If this law stipulates that, [then] we are not afraid to declare our assets, but we would be embarrassed by having nothing to be declare,” said Sok Sam Oeun, director of the free legal aid organization the Cambodia Defenders Project.
“Maybe the law’s drafter thinks that NGO workers have a lot of money,” he said.
Yang Kim Eng, executive director of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, and San Chey, president of the Khmer Institute for National Development, which is a project of the NGO Pact Cambodia, said that they should not be defined as public servants, even though their work serves the public through charity-funded projects.
“We provide services to the public, but we are not public servants and do not have the responsibility of a government official,” Mr Kim Eng said.
“We have no power to manage the national budget, and our work is not related to the national budget. But government officials, politicians, have the power to manage the national budget,” he said.
Mr Kim Eng said the inclusion of NGOs in the anti-corruption law was irrelevant to anticorruption efforts.
“If there were an article like that, it would be too strange. It looks like the government is looking at the short term,” he said.
A number of government officials contacted this week and last said they were still waiting for a first look at the draft anti-corruption law, which remains a close-
ly guarded secret since being approved by the Council of Ministers.
Hy Sophea, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice and a member of the Civil and Penal Codes Committee was among them.
“I saw and read this law once in the 1990s, but since then I have never seen it,” he said, referring to earlier versions of the anticorruption law.
“I did not see the recent draft,” he said of the version passed on Dec 11.
Bunyay Narin, deputy cabinet chief and spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said last week that he did not have a copy of the draft either. Three undersecretaries of state with the ministry told the same story.
Among the few things known about the draft is that, with nine chapters and 57 articles, it is shorter than previous versions of the proposed law.
Mr Siphan said he had seen the draft but is legally barred from releasing it to the public. That, he said, is the job of the National Assembly.
“When it’s at the [executive], it’s still a confidential document. When it arrives at the Assembly, it will be copied for every lawmaker,” Mr Siphan said.
Lawmakers said they haven’t seen the draft either.
“I am pursuing this draft law closely because I am very interested in it, but I still have not obtained it,” SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said on Friday.