The Anti-Corruption Unit last week began a process of engaging local businesses to produce a set of guidelines to help them to deal with corruption, yet businesses say they have little option but to engage in corrupt activities in order to get their work done. Executive Director of Transparency International Cambodia Preap Kol sat down with the Post’s May Kunmakara to talk about corruption and the business environment in Cambodia.
How would you characterise the current situation for business and corruption in Cambodia?
Local businesses in Cambodia in general are involved in some form of corruption, but I believe that most of them are actually pressured to be so. The majority of them are in fact strongly against corruption.
It is said that if local companies don’t pay local authorities, particularly customs and taxation officials, their business will not be able to run. How can this be avoided?
It is unfortunately true to a large extent in the current context. But without being pressured to pay bribes or extra fees local companies can actually be much healthier in the long run. Given that corrupt practices in Cambodia have been pervasive for so long, most of the local companies have accepted such practices as a way life and a way of doing business in Cambodia.
But given the recent progress and developments in anti-corruption efforts in Cambodia, local companies need to change the way they think and act. That’s why they need support from the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit to give them the confidence they need, and that’s why TI Cambodia also has a role to play in promoting integrity in the business world.
How prevalent are the business links in Cambodia with high-ranking officials?
There is widespread evidence that businesses or firms operating in Cambodia have links to high-ranking officials, following a deeply entrenched patronage system and a widespread logic of clientelism.
These companies usually have more competitive advantages and are generally protected by the authorities. But there are also many foreign companies that have been running a business successfully in Cambodia without having such links to high-ranking officials. Generally, SMEs are more vulnerable to corruption because they have less leverage to challenge the corrupt officials who demand bribes or extra fees.
The Anti-Corruption Unit is preparing a set of guidelines for business to help stamp out corruption. How do you see this playing out?
This government initiative is a good starting point and is helpful to business communities. The challenge now is how to ensure private companies opt in and make use of these guidelines effectively. Since this is quite new to the business community, it will take sometime before companies embrace the idea.
The opposition party is very vocal about corruption in Cambodia. Will their increased presence in parliament mean improvements in anti-corruption efforts?
The opposition party’s voice in parliament and their leadership in some parliamentary commissions, especially the newly established commission on investigation and anti-corruption, will enable them to challenge the government and anti-corruption authorities to do more. However, their oversight function will have limited effect. They also have limited power, so it is unrealistic to expect too much from the opposition party.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.