The first day of public consultation on the draft of the Anti-Corruption Law began Wednesday in Phnom Penh with Prime Minister Hun Sen acknowledging the slow progress made in fighting corruption in the country.
“Obviously the fight against corruption hasn’t obtained the expected results since we didn’t have a strong basis to efficiently fight it,” he said in his opening address at the two-day meeting.
Cambodia, however, has been paying the price, said International Monetary Fund Country Representative Robert Hagemann. Studies show Cambodia’s GDP per capita could quadruple if corruption was tackled, Hagemann told the conference.
The section concerning declaration of assets by public officials drew attacks from some participants for containing too many loopholes.
“The way it stands, I think we could see a lot of funds being transferred to relatives in the near future,” since there is no requirement for officials’ spouses or children to declare their assets, said Channtha Muth of the National Democratic Institute.
Other participants questioned the fact that asset declarations would be confidential and remain so unless there was an investigation into a particular official’s assets.
Monh Saphann, chairman of the National Assembly’s Defense, Interior and Inspection Committee, defended this concept.
“This is to respect privacy. We cannot declare our assets to the public,” he said.
As the draft stands, members of the future Supreme National Council for Anti-Corruption would be selected by political parties and would control the investigations of the anti-corruption secretary-general.
US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Mark Storella said that the secretary-general of the Supreme National Council should be independent from political parties. Otherwise, he said, “[the office] may be seen as a political tool.”
UN technical adviser Bertrand de Speville noted that, once the new law is adopted, it will supersede previous laws and only apply to acts of corruption committed after its implementation, which will put old corruption acts beyond the reach of the law.
Some participants deplored the fact that, unlike similar anti-corruption laws in other countries, conflict of interest is not defined in the draft.
A group of NGOs, including the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, released a statement Wednesday night calling for witness protection provisions in the law and a civil society member on the Supreme National Council.