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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Combating corruption

Combating corruption

Mombasa, Kenya-Corruption: Cambodia is riddled with it, while in Africa, Kenya has

long been regarded as one of the continent's most afflicted nations. Potential investors

regularly cite corruption as a key reason for staying out of Cambodia, a fundamental

reason for the collapse of foreign direct investment.

As regular readers of the Post will know, the government in Phnom Penh has taken

practically no action to combat graft, not least because so many influential people-from

politicians to military to businessmen-make so much money from it. One of the few

to make any noise on the subject is the leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, whose

staged marches through the capital regularly feature placards calling on donors to

tackle the problem.

Prime Minister Hun Sen promised donors more than a year ago that an anti-corruption

law would be passed by the middle of 2003. That did not happen, marking yet another

deadline missed on Cambodia's increasingly mirage-like road to good governance.

It remains to be seen just what the donors and multilaterals will say (and more importantly

do) about yet another missed government promise at the next donor meeting scheduled

for later this year.

Kenya, though, is different and offers some encouraging lessons about what can be

achieved when the political will to act is present. The country saw a change of government

at the end of 2002 when President Mwai Kibaki was elected pledging a raft of reforms,

not least combating corruption.

For years Kenya has appeared near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption

perceptions index of nations. (Cambodia is not included in the survey because of

insufficient data, the organisation says.) In 2002, Kenya was ranked 96th (out of

102 countries), tied with Indonesia, and below such basket cases as Haiti, Ivory

Coast and Moldova.

In the latest report, published on October 7, Kenya again ranks equally with Indonesia,

now 122nd out of 133 countries.

However Transparency International's Peter Eigen in London, issuing the 2003 report,

singled out President Kibaki as needing special support.

"To turn Kenya into a country where corruption is not the order of the day requires

sustained commitment at both the national and international level, both in terms

of financial resources and practical support," Eigen said.

The incumbent and fantastically corrupt KANU party, which had ruled (or misruled)

Kenya for more than three decades, was thrown into opposition. With expectations

high, Kibaki was able to make giant strides.

Less than one year into his rule, he has undertaken three key steps towards fighting

graft. The first was to pass a law requiring all civil servants to declare their

wealth, and that of their spouses and dependents, as well as its source, by October

2.

From the president himself down to the lowest-ranking police officers and teachers,

all those in the employ of the public sector were compelled to comply. Those who

did not were told that they would be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains, but

would lose their jobs. (The information provided on the forms is confidential, and

will be held by the Anti-Corruption Commission and the police.)

Second, he initiated a commission of inquiry into a scandal involving the theft of

millions of dollars in World Bank loans from the early 1990s. The Goldenberg Inquiry,

as it is known after the company concerned, is currently hearing damning evidence,

in public, in the capital Nairobi.

And Kibaki's government has launched a clean-up of the judiciary. An investigation

by a senior judge showed that around half of the country's judges are corrupt, from

low-level clerks and magistrates all the way to the bewigged justices at the Appeal

Court.

The report was released in two parts earlier this month. The first part was made

public, while the second, which names those judges considered corrupt, was not. The

first volume makes interesting reading: those wanting to bribe a malleable Appeal

Court judge will need to pay around $200,000; magistrates come much cheaper at only

$50.

Among the other findings: a murderer or rapist can beat the charge by paying as little

as $250; and many of the judges expect to get a cut of up to one-third of any award

they make.

The recently appointed chief justice (his predecessor was sacked earlier this year

after-surprise, surprise-allegations of corruption) promised that "sooner or

later" the judiciary would be clean. He warned all those named in the second

report that if they did not resign voluntarily, they would face a tribunal.

Corruption, Kibaki says, is a problem Kenya can ill afford to tolerate. He was quoted

in a recent issue of Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper as saying his country can provide

for its people, as long as the battle against graft is won.

"For the few months I have been head of government, I have known that we have

more than enough resources to do all we intend, if only we can stop corruption,"

he said.

He said corruption is the major obstacle to development, and warned all his ministers

who were not committed to fighting corruption that they should resign.

"From tomorrow and the day after, this fight will have started, and if you are

not serious about it, you'd better leave before then," he said on September

29.

Leading by example, Kibaki himself handed in his wealth declaration three days ahead

of the deadline.

So what do Kenyans think of this? Almost all of those to whom I spoke were encouraged.

They believe Kibaki is sincere in his pledge, and is delivering on his promise. One

or two remain to be convinced-they are thoroughly disillusioned by politicians of

all stripes.

But Kibaki's efforts mark a bold start.

Cambodia is capable of taking these same steps. The government in Phnom Penh knows

as well as the donors and the multilaterals that without a clean judiciary and a

properly funded civil service, Cambodia will continue to struggle. But that will

require battling powerful vested interests. Ultimately, as Kenya has shown, political

will remains the most important ingredient.

* Robert Carmichael was the managing editor of the Post from August 2001 to August

2003. He is now traveling in eastern and southern Africa.

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