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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Transparency highlighted

Transparency highlighted

OBSERVERS have highlighted increased transparency as a key issue for economic development following allegations of corruption in Cambodia’s mining industry this week.

The debate follows reports this week that Australian miner OZ Minerals allegedly paid US$1.15 million to people in 2009 who were reportedly the family members of officials at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

Both OZ Minerals and MIME officials have denied any wrongdoing, but commentators have discussed the need for transparency to secure the Kingdom’s investment climate following the allegations.

Cambodian Centre for Human Rights President Ou Virak said the eventual fallout from the affair could mean there is a negative impact on the Kingdom’s economic development going forward.

“Cases like this will act to discourage investment from socially responsible investors and attract interest from companies without principles and scruples,” he said.

“While investment from this latter category may have short-term returns for their Cambodian business partners, such returns come at the expense of the long-term and sustainable development of Cambodia.”

Ou Virak said corruption “is still a part of daily life in Cambodia,” but that the country’s Anti-Corruption Unit now had “an opportunity to show that it can and will take on government officials who are accused of corrupt dealings.”

Some have said there is a need for further anti-corruption work in Cambodia.

George Boden, a campaigner for watchdog group Global Witness, pointed to “serious flaws” in Cambodia’s anti-corruption act, which was passed into law last year.

Among them were the act’s rules for government officials’ disclosure of assets, he said. Officials disclose only certain assets, and the information is not made public. Also, officials’ spouses are not required to make the same disclosures.

However, ACU spokesman Keo Remy claimed the organisation had made noticeable achievements during its short lifetime.

He noted fighting corruption in the education sector and the military, as well as issuing warning letters to high-ranking officials, as examples.

“We have a lot of work to do to deal with these issues,” he said.

Keo Ramy declined to comment on whether the ACU planned to investigate the allegations against OZ Minerals, as it was against ACU policy to notify the public or even the company or person in question.

“It could disrupt our investigation,” he said.

Some groups defended Cambodia’s attempts to fight corruption, adding the framework in place was still new.

Mam Sambath, Chairman of Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, said the country “is making progress toward transparency” but that much more remains to be done.

In regards to OZ Minerals, Mam Sambath said none of the allegations had yet been proven. But if they turned out to be accurate, he hoped the government would use the incident as a learning experience in order to avoid similar problems.

He said he doubted sophisticated investors would let an “isolated incident” affect their views of the Kingdom’s investment climate.

“By addressing the issue publicly and transparently, the Royal Government of Cambodia will address the questions being raised on behalf of the Cambodian people but also to the satisfaction of the broader investment base,” he said.

OZ Minerals spokeswoman Natalie Worley denied “any allegations of inappropriate business practices,” in response to an email from The Post, adding, “Wherever we operate we act in accordance with local regulations and with international standards.” And while officials at MIME could not be reached for comment yesterday, they also have denied any wrongdoing, according to reports. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY KUNMAKARA

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