Amid a flurry of post-election promises of reform by the government, an index released by Transparency International (TI) yesterday shows that Cambodia’s public sector is perceived to be the most corrupt in ASEAN, and second only to North Korea in all of East Asia.
Since being added to TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the Kingdom’s scores have remained largely stagnant as the country has been outstripped by its regional peers. In 2005, when it joined the survey, Indonesia and Myanmar were behind Cambodia, which was ranked 130th out of 159 nations that year.
But in this year’s index, Cambodia fell to 160th out of 177 nations, with Indonesia and Myanmar holding the 114th and 157th spots, respectively. Laos, which slipped behind Cambodia in 2007, now ranks 140th, and even Bangladesh, which tied for last place in 2005’s index, has climbed to 136th this year.
“While it is encouraging to hear the highest level of Cambodia’s government reiterate their commitment to tackle corruption, corrupt practices will continue and become even more entrenched unless rhetoric is matched by actions,” Sophoan Rath, chairman of TI Cambodia’s board, said in a statement released alongside the index yesterday.
However, that may prove a troublesome prospect if Cambodia’s performance over the past nine years is any indication. In 2005, when the CPI still used a 10-point scale, Cambodia’s score on the index was 2.3. In 2010, the year the Anti-Corruption Unit was formed, Cambodia’s score had actually fallen to 2.1. This year, on the CPI’s 100-point scale – implemented in 2012 – Cambodia scored 20, down two points from last year’s 22.
ACU spokesman Keo Remy declined to comment yesterday on the contents of the 2013 CPI, and referred questions to ACU Chairman Om Yentieng, who could not be reached after repeated attempts.
The drop between 2012 and 2013 can be accounted for by substantial declines in two of the third-party metrics used by Transparency International. The studies, performed by the World Economic Forum and Global Insight, assessed how commonly businesses face corruption in a given country and to what extent it affects their operations.
“Both the World Economic Forum and Global Insight focus on the business environment,” Preap Kol, TI Cambodia’s executive director, told reporters at yesterday’s unveiling of the CPI. “It is seen that the investment climate is not favourable in Cambodia.
“In my personal opinion, in 2013, we had the election, and businesses may have faced some challenges,” he added.
European Chamber of Commerce vice-president Dominique Catry, on the other hand, attributed the lack of progress over the last few years to a lack of motivation on the part of authorities.
“I don’t think there has been any change at all,” Catry said.
“If corruption was more controlled, that could probably attract more foreign investors from countries like the US or from Europe, but I’m not sure it is a concern [among officials] in Cambodia,” he continued.
“They don’t see the advantage in changing the way of operating, so there is no incentive for those people to change their behaviour.”
Though some businesses are able to operate above board, he concluded, those that seek government contracts are especially likely to run into graft-related problems.
TIC board member Ok Serei Sopheak, speaking at the unveiling, also acknowledged the apparent lack of progress.
“We have the feeling that over the past years, it seems like there is no improvement,” he said. “We need to recognise that we are at a level that is not acceptable.
“We need to reflect and clean ourselves, and this is a mirror that allows us to see ourselves,” he added.
While progress was slow, he noted, there was a time when officials enjoyed total impunity when it came to corruption. In recent years, however, the ACU has begun arresting junior officials on corruption charges. In the future, Sopheak continued, even senior officials may find themselves facing prosecution.
“It’s like evolution,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA