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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Grim picture painted of all-pervasive corruption

Grim picture painted of all-pervasive corruption

From extortion and nepotism to bribery and graft, corruption pervades almost every

aspect of Cambodian life, a recent study has reported.

Transparency International and the Center for Social Development (CSD) released a

National Integrity Systems (NIS) study of Cambodia on December 19 that provided a

grim assessment of the systemic scale of the country's notorious corruption.

The study said that despite signs of the government's will to tackle the issue, a

decade of political peace and billions of dollars in aid have not adequately strengthened

the mechanisms needed to prevent it. Such systems are still weak and lack the capacity

to carry out their functions properly, the report states.

Corrupt practices take many different forms: from low-level informal payments for

basic public services such as medical care, school grades, and court verdicts, to

high-level "big-ticket" cases.

Everyday forms of corruption have become so prevalent that households acknowledge

them as routine. Although no Cambodian regarded paying bribes as fair or acceptable,

citizens feel they lack sufficient power to confront or change the system, the study

states.

High-level corruption, which can take the form of financial aid diversion through

various ministries and levels of government, is most difficult to quantify, according

to the study. Another area of major concern is the overlap between private-sector

business and the country's political elite.

"[Privatization] has led to the control of many state-owned enterprises and

land concessions being granted to prominent politicians," the study read. "According

to a recent study 'Since the 1980s, 20 to 30 percent of the country's land, the main

source of its wealth, has passed into the hands of less than one percent of the population.'"

The study made a number of recommendations intended to remedy the situation. Of primary

importance is the enactment and implementation of an anti-corruption law that complies

with internationally accepted standards.

The government has been dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a draft anti-corruption

law since 1994.

Other key measures cited were judicial reform, the introduction of a freedom of information

law, and the reform and strengthening of existing anti-corruption bodies or their

dissolution into the Supreme National Council against Corruption - a national-level

anti-corruption body that would be established through the anti-corruption law.

The study concluded that Cambodia's overall "integrity system" is quite

weak with corrupt, protectionist structures well-established within government systems.

Checks and balances are largely ignored and mechanisms for oversight are controlled,

at least financially, by the executive branch and lack the capacity to perform their

functions. Changing this will be difficult, the study said, and will require concerted

effort from the government, international donors, and civil society.

"There is little to motivate a ruling party with a powerful top leadership to

reform a system that works largely in their favor apart from imposing substantive

costs," the study stated. "Donors are the only real players with this kind

of leverage and need to take a more stringent approach when dealing with the government."

The NIS Study of Cambodia is part of a regional project to analyze the integrity

systems in East and South East Asia. The concept of the NIS has been developed and

promoted by Transparency International as part of their broader global approach to

combating corruption.

While no blueprint for an effective system to prevent corruption exists, there is

a growing international consensus as to the salient institutional features that work

best to prevent corruption and promote integrity, TI wrote in a press release December

19.

The country studies draw on an in-depth assessment of the quality of institutions

relevant to anti-corruption. Such organizations, laws and practices are analyzed

for their contributions to integrity, transparency and accountability and the extent

to which they function.

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