Report for USAID Cites Rampant Graft

Cambodia is rife with institutionalized corruption that poses obstacles to socio-economic and political improvement, and des­pite international awareness of the problem, there has been little meaningful change, a new report commissioned by the US Agency for Inter­national De­velopment said this week.

The report executed in May and June by a US-based consulting firm, cites instances of corruption at all levels of Cambodian society, from schoolboy bribes to illegal land concessions at the upper echelons of the government.

Released a month before the annual Consultative Group meeting, at which international donors pledge aid to Cambodia, the re­port is a damning addition to growing criticism of graft in the government.

In response to complaints from donors in September, Prime Min­ister Hun Sen called for a “war on corruption,” legal and judicial reform and public administration reform. But the report for USAID suggests that such promises are sometimes “little more than a studied attempt to tell donors what they want to hear.”

The report does not reserve its criticism for the government. It notes that the international community, though aware of widespread graft, “has thus far failed to persuade the [Royal Govern­ment of Cambodia] to take effective action against corruption,” and recommends that donors band together and make aid conditional upon substantive reform.

US Embassy spokeswoman Heide Bronke emphasized on Tuesday that the assessment does not represent the views of USAID or the US government, but added that the US does be­lieve the country would benefit from serious anti-corruption reform.

The report is less an indictment of any individual person or institution than a basic guide to corruption in Cambodia, using largely anecdotal evidence. But its comments are strongly worded.

If the deeply entrenched system of favors and bribes was allowed “to persist by the international community,” the report reads, “the rapacious exploitation of Cam­bodia’s economy will continue with unforeseen consequences for the country’s political and socio-economic development.”

Government officials contacted Tuesday were unaware of the USAID assessment.

Om Yentieng, adviser to the prime minister, said he had not seen the report, but stressed that combating graft is no simple task.

“Fighting against corruption is difficult because no one puts a sign on their forehead declaring they are corrupt,” he said.

“I believe that corruption exists, but there are no foreigners who can solve this problem in place of the Cambodian people.”

Asked about Hun Sen’s war on corruption, Om Yentieng said that observers will see results.

“After [the prime minister’s] announcement, we cannot avoid putting someone in jail,” he said.

Monh Saphann, chairman of the National Assembly’s Com­mittee of Interior, National De­fense and Inspections, said Tues­day that after Hun Sen’s promises in September, corruption levels remained level.

He said only time would tell if the government will pass any potent reforms.

“Just wait to see,” he said. “Is the government taking strict measures, or is it just talk?”



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