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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anti-corruption measures languish as government stalls

Anti-corruption measures languish as government stalls

The government's commitment to fighting corruption was called into question by NGOs

and opposition parties who claim the Prime Minister failed to implement anti-corruption

measures on both domestic and international fronts.

Prime Minister Hun Sen made a pledge at the June 2002 donors' meeting to pass an

anti-corruption law within a year after donors warned they would cut funding if progress

was not made in passing the legislation.

But June 2003 marked the deadline to pass the law and the anti-corruption legislation

remains in draft form and can not be passed while the government deadlock continues.

Some donor representatives indicated that the warning was only meant to prod the

government toward reform rather than impose an ultimatum.

Steven Schonberger, World Bank operations officer, said that the Bank had no plans

to reduce its funding. He said conditions to pass anti-corrupution laws were a way

to "gently monitor progress" and donors would continue to track the pace

of reform.

"We hope that when the new government forms there will be an opportunity to

sit down and discuss how to get things moving more quickly," said Schonberger.

"It's been mixed progress. Some things have progressed, but then others did

not."

The issue of combating corruption, increasingly a political issue, is one of the

conditions demanded by the Alliance of Democrats, the political union of the Sam

Rainsy Party (SRP) and Funcinpec, before they will enter a government.

Sam Rainsy MP Son Chhay said he doubted the CPP's commitment to passing the legislation.

"The law has not been taken seriously by the government," he said.

Chhay was concerned that the CPP has redrafted the legislation to render the anti-corruption

committee a puppet of the government. The initial draft set up an anti-corruption

commission consisting of a director appointed by the King, three members of the National

Assembly and two members from the NGO community.

The version amended by the Council of Ministers in May 2003 stipulated that the anti-corruption

"supreme council" would have one member each selected by the King, the

Senate, the National Assembly, the Constitutional Council of Magistracy and the National

Audit Authority.

"It looks like the office will be made up of people from the National Assembly...

it will be a kind of government body that will protect corrupt practices," Chhay

said.

Funcinpec legislator Ok Socheat said he believes the CPP will delay passing the legislation.

The Alliance is demanding a change in the constitution to allow for an annual vote

of confidence to ensure the government honors its promises. Socheat said this would

mean that if the legislation was not put to the National Assembly, opposition parties

could challenge the leadership.

"When they become Prime Minister they do nothing. I think the vote of confidence

will make sure that he should respect all the agreements," Socheat said.

But CPP member Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the Ministry of Information, said the

government would not agree to such a measure.

"This will cause instability. No where in the world has this annual vote of

confidence," he said. "They play the wrong music at the wrong time. The

most important thing is how to start a new assembly and a new government."

John Mitchell, deputy head of mission at the British embassy, also said he was unaware

of any country with a mandatory annual vote of confidence for the Prime Minister.

The British system, and those based on it, allows for MPs to call a vote of confidence,

but even if the Prime Minister loses, they are not constitutionally obligated to

step down.

"I think that it would be very, very rare for any country to have an automatic

vote of confidence," he said. "It's something that you only bring into

play because circumstances dictate it."

But the Alliance believes the vote of confidence is necessary to make the government

honor the constitution. Socheat said if the CPP agrees to it, the deadlock may soon

be over. "If Hun Sen accepts to change the constitution and have a vote of confidence,

the government will form very soon," he said.

The Government has also not signed up to international measures to fight corruption.

The UN held a convention against corruption in Mexico on December 9-11 but Cambodia

did not sign the United Nations agreement, a UN spokesman said.

While Cambodia attended preliminary talks, it appears that no representatives attended

the December convention and Cambodia has not signed the pact, said Dien Dell, who

chairs the National Assembly's anti-corruption committee.

Dell said Cambodia was ill prepared to sign such a deal and implement it effectively.

"It wouldn't help to go to the convention. We don't yet have a law against corruption."

But SRP spokesman, Ung Bun Ang, said Cambodia had indicated its commitment to signing

the covenant four weeks ago at preliminary meetings, a decision that would need to

be ratified by the National Assembly.

Bun Ang questioned the CPP's intention to sign the UN anti-corruption agreement.

"They have put in a lot of lip service... but we do not believe that there is

a real genuine effort," he said. "Without commitment from the top, it's

useless."

The government's anti-corruption stance was further challenged last month after more

than 100 police turned out to block an "anti-corruption day" outside of

Wat Botum organized by the Khmer Human Rights and Anti- Corruption Organization (KHRACO)

on December 14.

Although the ruling came from the Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, Ministry of Interior

spokesman Khieu Sopheak had denounced the demonstration in the week before the proposed

march, claiming it would serve as opposition propaganda and cause unrest.

"We respect the freedom of expression [but] we have to maintain the stable position

of our people. We don't want a repeat of what happened on January 29 [during the

anti-Thai riots]," he said

The SRP said the government was responsible for blocking the march and Funcinpec

spokesman Kassie Neou called it unconstitutional.

National police chief Hok Lundy said he had not considered whether the police actions

had violated the constitution.

"I don't know whether it was correct or not," he said. "The police

just came in to keep security for the safety of the people."

Som Sophatra, secretary general of KHRACO, said he has re-scheduled the demonstration

for January 4, and has written to the Ministry of Interior and the municipality to

clarify whether they are allowed to assemble. "It sounds positive, but we are

not 100 percent sure."

Sophatra is optimistic that under a new tri-partite government, his small organization

will have a stronger voice. "Now nobody can challenge it because it is a mono-party

in control."

Sophatra believes that the international community has a poor view of Cambodia's

commitment to fighting corruption and says the country must be measured on the Corruption

Prevention Index (CPI), an international measure of a country's corruption amongst

public officials and politicians, in order to be taken seriously.

Transparency International, the international body that provides measures for corruption,

held a meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month.

Sophatra was hopeful that Cambodia would receive a rating next year. But he doubted

that Cambodia would fare well.

"Bangladesh has the lowest score among 133 countries with a measure of 1.3,"

he said. "Maybe Cambodia would be worse-maybe zero, something like that. There

is still a long, long way to go."

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