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ACU to make law to protect sources

The Anti-Corruption Unit is drafting a new law solely to protect whistleblowers reporting corruption in the Kingdom, ACU chief Om Yentieng revealed after an hours-long meeting with parliament’s anti-corruption commission yesterday.

Anti-corruption advocates in the NGO and private sectors have long pushed for strong whistleblower protections to be enshrined in a new access to information law or added to the existing anti-corruption law.

But Yentieng, also a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said that he had discussed the creation of an entirely new law with the lawmakers yesterday.

“The 10th [parliamentary] commission supports the preparation of a draft law to defend witnesses, sources and whistleblowers,” he said, adding that he hoped they could “understand each other and cooperate”.

“So if the commission supports this law when it comes to the National Assembly, we believe that we can have good cooperation.”

Ho Vann, an opposition lawmaker and head of the National Assembly’s newly created anti-corruption commission, said he fully backed such a law.

“We have discussed this in detail because we have raised questions about whistleblowers and people who give us the [information on corruption],” he said.

“Corruption is a sensitive problem and a problem that can be dangerous for the people who give us the information, so we [will] make this law so that the public can give us the information.”

The 2010 Anti-Corruption Law already says that the ACU must “keep absolute confidentiality of corruption-related information sources” and “take necessary measures” to protect whistleblowers.

But it also allows for complainants to be jailed for up to six months if their reporting “leads to useless inquiry”, which rights groups have said deters would-be whistleblowers.

Separately, Yentieng also said yesterday that the ACU was “finalising” its investigation into a scandal at the Health Ministry that was uncovered a year ago by the Global Fund.

Although ACU deputy chairman Chhay Savuth told the Post in September that the investigation had been completed, the ACU has been silent on any results, leading to speculation that no complicit officials would ever be brought to justice.

But Yentieng said ACU officials would be travelling to Singapore today as “the last part of our total investigation”.

The Global Fund probe found that the director and deputy director at the National Centre for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM) were paid “commissions” totalling $410,000 by two mosquito net suppliers, including Sumitomo Chemical Singapore, between 2006 and 2011.

The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and STDs (NCHADS) and umbrella NGO MEDiCAM were also implicated in the report.

As of September, the CNM still owed $83,000 of misused money to the Global Fund, while NCHADS and MEDiCAM had paid back what they owed.

The fund’s hefty report, the product of years of investigation, did not identify any officials directly, but former CNM director Duong Socheat served in that position during nearly the entire investigation period.

But despite the documented evidence, Yentieng firmly denied that the ACU had been dragging its feet, saying that he had worked on investigations taking five years in the past.

“[It’s] not too long. Long or not [is not] up to your mouth.…You say that [there is] enough evidence, but are you sure? A lot [of evidence] does not mean evidence. When the court approves the evidence, it’s evidence,” he said.

“I just confirm that we are still doing [the investigation] and results have also already been shared with the Global Fund. But it has not been finalised.”

The fund did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The European Union, a key donor, said that it was expecting the ACU to go after individual officials: “The EU still expects that the national law enforcement agencies in charge of fighting corruption will take necessary actions to investigate individual responsibilities,” Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain said.

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