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Lack of disclosure criticised in assets

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Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures during a ceremony at the Kingdom’s Anticorruption Unit where he declared his assets on Friday. Critics claim the anticorruption law is flawed due to a lack of transparency.

That’s not what an anticorruption law should be. Transparency is publishing information.

Opposition party members and local rights groups voiced concerns yesterday after Prime Minister Hun Sen confidentially declared his personal assets in a submission to the Anticorruption Unit, citing a lack of full public disclosure.

On Friday, the Premier appealed to other senior officials to declare their assets to the ACU before the April 7 deadline.

Although the asset declaration is confidential, Hun Sen announced he earned a personal salary of 4,600,000 riel (US$1,450) per month, adding that other expenditures for his work were covered by the state and that he will declare his assets again by 2013.

“My salary is enough for me to survive,” Hun Sen said, adding that he will now focus on fighting graft in the Government’s land reform, which he said “is encroached on by powerful individuals”.

“If you don’t have legal documents [land titles], you will be in trouble in the future, you can buy land but it has to be from legal financial resources.”

Following the disclosure, John Coughlan, consultant for the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that the anticorruption law was flawed due to a lack of overall transparency and the fact that officials’ asset declarations will not be made public.

“I’m sure many people in the Government would see Hun Sen as an example they should follow, but I don’t see the benefit to Cambodian people from a Government institution that’s going to keep [the declaration information] to themselves.

“I see it more as a means for the Government to gain information, than it is for the people,” he said yesterday.

“That’s not what an anticorruption law should be. Transparency is publishing information, this is not transparency.”

The ACU previously said that about 100,000 officials would be required to declare their assets, but that number recently dropped to about 25,000 according to the latest ACU reports.

As of Friday, only 11,320 of the total 24,854 government officials had submitted their declarations.

Amendments to the anticorruption law were also undertaken on Friday.

A vote was passed at the National Assembly for the annual ACU budget to be made independent of the Council of Ministers and instead be taken directly from the national budget.

Article 57 was also dropped from the law, which now gives the ACU full power to arrest corruption suspects and send them to court.

“The changes made to the Articles of the previous law will pave the way for our ACU to work smoothly and would be able to immediately send related corruption allegations to the court,” Om Yentieng said.

Yim Sovann, spokesman of the SRP said yesterday that large scale corruption issues such as illegal logging, land grabbing and the depletion of mineral resources have remained widespread across the Kingdom. He claimed the ACU continues to ignore these issues.

“It was a minor development for the ACU to have an independent budget, but the whole body is controlled by Hun Sen, therefore the body remains to have a lack of political will to fight large-scale corruption with well-connected, powerful people in the Government,” Sovann said.

Son Chhay, an SRP lawmaker, said that the change of the law showed little progress about the independence of the ACU, as its budget would now be overseen by Hun Sen.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ADAM MILLER

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