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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anti-graft bill set for passage in April

Anti-graft bill set for passage in April

SRP, NGOs call for earlier disclosure.

THE government’s draft Anticorruption Law will not be debated by the National Assembly until at least April, senior officials have said, prompting concerns that the long-awaited law will not be made public until the middle of next year.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the law is still in the hands of the Council of Ministers, which approved it for debate earlier this month, and that it will not be put forward in the Assembly at least until parliamentarians return from their three-month vacation, which begins this month.

As of Thursday, Cheam Yeap had still not seen the draft, which he said contains nine chapters and 57 articles, since it had not yet been released by the Council of Ministers.

“We are waiting to receive the Anticorruption Law, and we have been waiting since 1994,” he said. Previous statements by government officials have implied that the law will be made public when it is passed to the National Assembly in preparation for its debate and adoption.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council, said Thursday that he had “no idea” whether the draft will be passed to the parliament before or after its vacation, after describing it earlier this week as a “secret internal” government document.

But opposition party and civil society representatives say they want the law handed over to the National Assembly for debate and public scrutiny as soon as possible.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann lamented the fact that the draft had still not yet been received by the opposition parties. “For over 10 years, I have never seen the shadow of the draft of the Anticorruption Law,” he said. “The draft law, which has already been approved by the [Council of Ministers’] Plenary Council Session, should be sent to the National Assembly soon in order for the National Assembly to meet with citizens or organise seminars with participation from civil societies,” he said.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said the formulation of the law had been a “very secret” process.

Hang Chhaya added that although the National Assembly’s three-month hiatus is an annual occurrence, the government should have prioritised the anticorruption legislation, given how long it has been promised.

“We would have preferred to deal first with the Anticorruption Law, which has been coming for more than a decade,” he said.

Unlike other laws that are made public after being approved by the Council of Ministers, the anticorruption bill was particularly sensitive for the government, and significant changes were expected over earlier drafts, he said.

“From the information we have, some articles of [the law] have been watered down,” he said, adding that certain articles relating to NGO asset disclosure made it all the more urgent that civil society groups got to see copies of the law.

“We want the right to have access and give input and recommendations,” he said.

Chan Soveth, a senior monitor at local rights group Adhoc, went further, saying the government’s approval of the draft Anticorruption Law was just a way of escaping the criticisms of the international community.

“Actually, the government does not yet have the will to speed up the passing of the Anticorruption Law.”

Cheam Yeap said he did not know for sure when the National Assembly would adopt the law, but said that it depends on the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen or a request from one-third of the parliament’s members.

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