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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Corruption hits urban families hardest, study shows

Corruption hits urban families hardest, study shows

Urban households spend more than twice as much of their total expenditure on bribery as their rural counterparts, new research has shown.

The Center for Social Development has just completed a study looking at the general perceptions, attitudes and impact of corruption in contemporary Cambodia.

"People in urban areas are more well-off," said CSD research co-ordinator Christine Nissen. "They use services more often and therefore pay bribes more often."

They also spend a greater share of expenditure on bribes, she said.

"The poor have different priorities, such as food."

She said Cambodians almost unanimously condemn corruption, despite its endemic nature.

"While Cambodians consider the high cost of living as a much greater concern than corruption, they have a lower acceptance for it than in a 1998 CSD study, which is positive," she said.

"They are very aware of it now because of advocacy groups, ads on TV and radio. It's much more of an issue than it was before."

The survey shows that Government entities - courts, police, ministries - are perceived as the most dishonest. Bribing judges and courts are also the most costly, with the average annual payoff totalling $357.50 for those who pay for corrupt court practices.

Although the public education sector is perceived as more neutral, the survey showed that 53 percent of the total amount spent on bribes is paid to schools.

"Most of these payments are small and frequent, so people don't perceive it to be so bad. It becomes habitual practice," Nissen said.

Nissen said that women are often the ones to pay the bribes, because they are more likely to control the household budget. But

corruption is not sexist. The survey indicated that women pay about the same as men do, which Nissen said suggests the price for corrupt services are fixed "for men and women, rich and poor".

The study is the first in Cambodia to determine how much is spent on bribes by looking at both income and expenditure. Nissen said this paints a more honest picture because expenditure in rural areas often includes non-cash trade in goods and services.

"Most people in rural areas in developing countries don't have a cash income. They live on subsistence farms. This means you would often get a higher percentage spent on bribes looking only at their income, because income is always lower than expenditure."

The CSD study contradicts the findings of a World Bank study in 2000, which looked only at income and found that rural Cambodians spent proportionally more on bribes.

According to the CSD study, 1.4 percent of total expenditure of the average Cambodian household goes to bribery, compared to the 2000 World Bank figure of 2.2 percent. For urban households, bribes accounted for 2.1 percent of expenditure.

The CSD study focused on data from in-depth interviews with 2,000 Cambodians from all of the country's 24 provinces and municipalities . The demography of those interviewed was in line with the National Statistics Institute, with 82 percent of the interviewees from rural areas.

"Donors will benefit from the information, but the government and the people can also see what the problem areas are, and where we can be doing something more," Nissen said.

The report should be released by the end of March, she said. There are plans to make the report and raw data available online. A second report looking at how Cambodians interpret and deal with corrupt practices is also due at the end of March.



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