A visiting U.S. state senator on Thursday praised Prime Minister Hun Sen for his efforts to stamp out corruption but said the government should rely less on China, improve infrastructure and reduce electricity costs to attract further U.S. investment.
Washington State Senator Don Benton, a Republican, is on a weeklong trade mission to promote investment and cooperation between Cambodia and his home state.
“I met with the prime minister’s son today…and there’s no question that his father and his government are absolutely committed to bringing Cambodia into the 21st century and stamping out corruption in their government,” Mr. Benton said. “I’m convinced of that. He is absolutely committed to that. The family and certainly the ministers that are chosen are committed to that.”
“And it’s refreshing,” he continued, “because if this country is going to move forward, they have to move beyond the corruption, and I think clearly the leadership in this country sees that that’s what’s necessary. They want to improve the lives of their citizens.”
Although it was unclear which of Mr. Hun Sen’s sons Mr. Benton met with, all three of them hold influential positions within the military and government.
According to a report released last month by Transparency International (TI), Cambodia suffers from endemic graft and bribe seeking in its judiciary, police force and other state institutions. TI’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Cambodia 160th out of 177 countries surveyed.
However, a World Bank report released last week said that although “informal payments” to government and judicial officials remained prevalent, they were decreasing.
Mr. Benton also said Cambodia must work to entice American investors by improving its network of roads and lowering electricity costs, and rely less on “second-class” Chinese construction for major public works projects.
“That’s another reason we’re here is to say, ‘You don’t have to take a second-class product because it’s the only country that will help you…because America can help you too,” Mr. Benton said in reference to Cambodia’s dependence on China for road infrastructure.
China has given nearly $3 billion in soft loans and other aid to Cambodia for infrastructure projects, the majority of which are then contracted to Chinese companies for construction.
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