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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Payments illegal, says ACU chief

Payments illegal, says ACU chief

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Om Yentieng, president of the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, speaks to a packed house last night at Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

People who make illegal facilitation payments to get government services will now face harsh penalties under Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Law, just as the government officials who receive the money face charges, according to the President of Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit.

Speaking to a packed house last night at Sunway Hotel, the President of Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit Orm Yentieng said the law was on the ACU’s side and that corruption in Cambodia was going to be reduced over time.

“If you think your government salary is too low, you can get out of the position,” Orm Yentieng said, earning a round of applause.

During his speech and question-and-answer session at the CAMFEBA event, attended by many of Phnom Penh’s business leaders, the ACU chief reviewed one of the cases he had been working on, involving a US$200 payment to an official working for the Ministry of the Interior.

“If you agree to give $200, you are both going to be the victim, and you will be caught as well. The law is strict. If you do it wrong, you should be caught.”

The ACU president said that as part of the unit’s recent work, information had been disseminated to 1,700 communes around Cambodia assuring local government officials that they face punishment for corruption activities.

“Only a few ask for money. The rest cooperate with us,” he said.

“We tell them: do not take any more money, and if you take it you are facing consequences. The taker and giver of the money, both of you, will be punished,” he said. “If we are not strict, we won’t be able to deal with it.”

“If you are a government official and ask for money and they don’t it to give you, you will be caught, and this is printed out in big words in front of the commune offices. We did that on 1,700 communes. If we catch you doing that, we will send you to court. We are spreading, we can hear you, we can see you, and we’ve got more force coming up.”

Orm Yentieng said the ACU had been given special powers to record conversations and take photographs.

“It is not heartless on the part of the private sector not to pay facilitation payments. They have to do this. We’re not wasting time. We will push it, the faster the better. If the Ministry of Interior asks you for money, come and talk to me. He promised us in writing he will not take any money. Now is the time to enforce it. We will be waiting for you at ACU and we won’t step back.”

Orm Yentieng mentioned the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) a few times during his speech.

“The CDC is not poor; everyone has a car and there’s hardly any space for parking. We spend an hour to find a parking space. We have much more parking at the Anti-Corruption Unit,” he said, getting another round of applause.

The ACU president said Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon had agreed with the ACU that a list of formal facilitation fees would be prepared so that receipts of facilitation payments could be kept on record.

Comparing institutionalised corruption in Cambodia to a disease, the ACU president said people should take the medicine. “If you are sick, do you want to take the medicine or not? Do you want to die? We do not have a choice.”

He acknowledged that government salaries are low, but that they would rise slowly during the coming years.

“Tighten your seat belt,” he said.

One of the things business people in Cambodia should not have to pay for is a change of business address, which is a common occurrence when businesses expand.

“We should be thanking the private sector for providing us with the information. We should not be asking for money for these changes,” he said.

The ACU president appealed to the audience to “come quietly” to talk about cases.

“We can help you in any case. Come quietly and talk to us,” he said, adding that citizens with permission from the ACU could make recordings of conversations and take photographs that could later be used in court.

“If people from the private sector ask permission from the ACU, you can take pictures and make recordings. The ACU alone cannot find proof, but needs the cooperation from private sector and the cooperation is easier than doing it alone. The ACU needs to find new proof and evidence to present in court.” He added that sources would be protected.

AMCHAM and IBC Chairman Brett Sciaroni said he had known Orm Yentieng for 20 years and his job was the second most difficult in Cambodia, following that of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“He is seriously committed to changing the mentality,” Sciaroni said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at stuart.becker@gmail.com

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