A faction of progressive parliamentarians are calling on the National Assembly to debate a law that would form a five-member board to investigate corruption at the highest levels of government.
The anti-corruption law has languished in the National Assembly despite the introduction of two versions of the bill and a promise from Prime Minister Hun Sen that the legislation would come up for debate before the upcoming general elections.
“I have been waiting for four years to get permission from the government about the anti-corruption law,” Funcinpec parliamentarian Nan Sy said last week. “The government has asked me to wait until now. I couldn’t wait anymore because people are the victims, not the official government.”
Nan Sy urged the government to act quickly to prevent rampant corruption from worsening an already bleak situation for everyone in Cambodia, from the jobless to international businesses that turn away from the nation’s sordid investment atmosphere.
It could be as soon as this month that the government produces a draft of the law for debate, according to Klok Buddhi, the secretary of the legislation commission of the National Assembly.
“We are supposed to have that draft before the end of the month,” said Klok Buddhi, a Funcinpec member.
A version of an anti-graft law sponsored by Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay would establish a National Anti-Corruption Board that would have as its mandate nothing less than the prevention of “any act of corruption, bribery, and abuse of power, tax avoidance, illegal business and other acts that affect the prestige of public power.”
The National Board would have the authority to investigate anyone working for the government or holding public office and could make public its findings as it deems appropriate.
The board would also hold some power to punish corrupt officials, though the law vaguely describes this as the authority “to take appropriate and strict measures in order to discharge its duty effectively.”
Phi Thach, Sam Rainsy’s cabinet chief, says it is a crucial first step.
“It’s very difficult because we are forced to setup the anti-corruption law,” he said. “We are not entitled to enforce it alone, but of course we need a public mechanism to disclose the corruption first.”
A second version of the law written by an inter-ministerial government working group calls for more specific punishments for corrupt officials, from firing them from their posts to banishing them from government payrolls forever.
Hun Sen told international donors at a meeting last year that he would raise the legislation in the Assembly before the general elections.
Perhaps because there is no law to investigate corruption, official wrongdoing has spread widely in Cambodia with few repercussions for the people abusing their public posts, according to observers in Cambodia.
It’s not for lack of ideas. Parliamentarians, NGOs and representatives of other civil societies have suggested ways that Cambodia could tackle corruption and punish those who create it, according to an official at the NGO Star Kampuchea, which studies corruption in Cambodia.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself the Coalition for Transparency-Cambodia has also urged the government to move on the corruption debate. The group says either the draft anti-corruption law prepared by the government’s combined working group or the anti-corruption law proposed by Son Chhay should be considered.
Both pieces of legislation bestow immunity on board members to protect them from allegations or lawsuits as a result of their battles against corruption.
The board would essentially serve a similar function to the recently established National Audit Authority, but Phi Thach said the auditing board cannot fully battle corruption because it is already biased.
“This state body is not working right, is not working according to its competence,” Phi Thach said. “They are very politicized.”
To avoid this in the anti-corruption board, both versions of the law that have been introduced to the Assembly require that members of the board hold no political affiliations or government posts.
Still, just getting a bill to the floor of the Assembly has proven too difficult, Phi Thach said.
“The National Assembly as well as the government has snubbed the proposal,” he said. “Since that time there has been no law on preventing corruption and no law on declaring private assets has been passed by the national assembly.”
Nan Sy said the debate should begin soon because this year will be a busy one for the parliamentarians as their political parties launch their national campaigns.
“We asked the government to send this draft law to the National Assembly immediately,” Nan Sy said. “It should not be later than June, because by then all parliamentarians will have joined election campaigns and will not have time to dialogue.”