The Anti-Corruption Unit has set its sights on illegal fees paid at the commune level and intends to stamp out a decades-old culture of bribery within the next four months, ACU officials announced yesterday.
At a press conference, acting ACU president Chhay Savuth said that 22 ministries would be involved in the new initiative that would examine 2,000 services offered at the commune and sangkat level.
“The Ministry of Economics and Finance will set up a scheduled fee for each type of public service,” Chhay Savuth said. “We have already started to work on these issues and expect to complete our work within three or four months.”
He stressed that under the Penal Code, there were severe prison sentences for government officials or individuals involved in bribery.
“The culture of bribery has been in place for over 20 years, and now we have to illuminate a bad culture and change it to a good culture, and we will take legal action against any government official who continues to take bribes,” he added.
One of the first targets of the ACU after its formation in late 2010 was facilitation fees – a bribe paid to a government official to receive a public service such as road repairs or company registrations.
Chhay Savuth said the ACU was also appealing to individual NGOs, political parties, and associations who wish to fight bribery at the commune level to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the ACU to monitor bribery in a commune of their choice.
He called for NGOs and political parties to apply with the ACU for an MoU between May and October this year.
“The NGO and political party will need to employ their own human resources and budget to facilitate services for the people and monitor illegal fee paying within their commune,” he explained.
Transparency International Cambodia Executive Director Kol Preap welcomed the ACU’s move to work with civil society.
“NGOs will complement the role of the authorities and hold the authorities accountable, but the legitimate power and those who can implement regulations will be the government and the authorities,” Kol Preap said. TI has called corruption in Cambodia “systemic”.
“People become part of the problem when they proactively pay bribes without being asked. This is what is meant by systemic,” Kol Preap said. “This is one of the main issues – people don’t realize that exchanging an envelope for a service is part of corruption.”
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua of the Sam Rainsy Party said the government had lagged behind in identifying commune-level corruption as an important issue in the Kingdom.
“Corruption at the local level as been a huge problem for the poor for a long time,” Mu Sochua said, adding it was one of the core issues the SRP party intended to tackle.
“I hope it is the same for them, but we are 27 days away from an election right now,” Mu Sochua said. “I am a bit afraid that this is about the campaign and not addressing something that is rotten at the core.”