A World Bank-commissioned survey on corruption shows that court and customs employees are among the government workers seen as the most unethical, according to those familiar with the preliminary results.
Also at the top of the list are employees at the Council of Ministers, the Council for the Development of Cambodia and the Ministry of Interior, the latter because of perceptions about corruption among police officers.
The survey, co-sponsored by the government, and conducted by the local consulting firm Lidee Khmer, questioned more than 1,000 government officials, citizens and those in the private sector on their thoughts about corruption in the government.
Results will be used to put together a plan to address the problem as part of the overall good governance action plan for Cambodia, according to Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, chief of the World Bank office in Cambodia. The final report is due out in late April.
A group of parliamentarians, NGOs and others were briefed on the preliminary survey results last week in separate gatherings in what were described as confidential meetings. Mbida-Essama declined to talk about the specific results.
Donors have urged Cambodia to address corruption, and the issue is scheduled to be one of the major topics at the next Consultative Group meeting scheduled in May in Paris.
But it is unclear how far donors are willing to go to press for change. The government has yet to adopt an anti-corruption law, and at least two people indicated the World Bank is under pressure to tone down its final report.
At the Tokyo CG meeting in February 1999, donors pledged $470 million in assistance in exchange for Prime Minister Hun Sen allowing aid groups to monitor the government’s progress on reforms. At the May meeting, the government plans to request $536 million.
Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader said although the way the government addresses good governance in the long term could be linked to aid, the survey results are not seen as a conditionality for donor funds. “The results are probably not a huge surprise to anyone and the government knows it needs to work on those areas,” Leader said.
British Ambassador George Edgar agreed. “The survey shows where the basic problems are so the government can figure out how best they can be addressed,” Edgar said. “This particular survey is one piece of information to be used in a wider context.”
A few government officials dismissed the survey results as inaccurate, while others criticized the methodology.
Khieu Thavika, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the survey was not a good way to gauge corruption in the government. “The survey just interviewed some individuals who are upset with their work and then accuse this or that of being corrupt,” he said.
He also said that because a government official has a lot of possessions does not mean that person is corrupt.
“You can’t accuse officials of being corrupt when you just see them driving a Mercedes Benz,” Khieu Thavika said. “They can have other sources of income that is not related to corruption.”
One Lidee Khmer employee said the survey results are under discussion and said there were some problems, implying that there were complaints it was too harsh on the government.
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said he doesn’t deny that there is corruption in the government, but maintained it isn’t rampant. “Maybe one or two percent of police officers are corrupt, but not all of them,” he said.
A survey conducted by the Center for Social Development released in November 1998 showed about 85 percent of Cambodians consider corruption to be a normal part of their daily lives.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, Finance Minister Keat Chhon and other top government leaders have vowed to fight corruption. In the past year, at least 15 customs officials have been suspended or transferred and two top Phnom Penh court officials were removed because of alleged corruption.
An official with NGO Forum, an umbrella group of NGOs, said he was not surprised by the survey results, but said he did have problems with the survey sample. “They just talked to government officials and the private sector, and only talked to a few simple people,” he said.
Another representative of a think tank also criticized the survey methodology, saying that Lidee Khmer was not qualified to conduct such a complicated survey and that it focused too much on those living in urban areas. Still, he said, even if the technical problems were corrected, the survey results would have been the same. “The results would still show that Cambodia is the most corrupt country in the world.”
Brett Ballard, interim field director of the American Friends Service Committee, said he was concerned about developing a policy to fight corruption based on a survey of people’s perceptions of it. “I don’t know if it’s legitimate, appropriate or possible to develop a policy based on people’s perception of a problem,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Yuko Maeda)