Government officials, businessmen, legal experts and aid groups met Monday to discuss the formation of a commercial court, a key requirement for entry into the World Trade Organization.
“We cannot wait for the whole country to reform its legal system,” said Sok Siphana, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce. “This is a hot topic. The more comments and advice we get, the better.”
Businessmen have griped for years about the country’s corrupt legal system and have pressed the government to create a separate commercial court to handle business disputes.
Under the current interpretation of the Untac law, business disputes can be turned into criminal cases, creating opportunities for corruption among court officials and causing fear among investors.
Now the government, working with the Canadian International Development Agency Project, has prepared a draft law that the private sector and aid groups are combing over.
The draft law states that the envisioned court will be independent and overseen by judges successfully trained at the Royal School of Magistracy. Those judges must be appointed by royal decree through the proposal of the Supreme Council of Magistracy.
Pok Manny, undersecretary of state at the Justice Ministry, said the independent commercial judges will not engage in corruption if the new government’s prime minister does not bring pressure to bear on judges. But, he said, the salary of the judges must be sufficient.
“Some judges don’t want to be corrupt, but if there is pressure from a powerful person, they are scared,” Pok Manny said.
The commercial court is just one of many business laws the government must pass on entry to the WTO. Cambodia also needs to pass laws concerning business enterprises, commercial contracts and accounting, among others.
On Monday, Sok Siphana told a group of donors, aid groups and businessmen that lack of confidence in the legal system is the primary concern of investors.
“Forget the WTO,” he said. “Investors will not come if the legal environment is not safe,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Ten Kate)