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Lawmakers discuss ethics for legislature

CAMBODIAN lawmakers met with international experts to discuss a proposed code of parliamentary ethics on Wednesday, with the aim of “promoting public confidence” in the legislative branch.

During a two-day parliamentary seminar organised by the UN Development Programme, which ended Wednesday, assembly members and senators from each of the political parties in parliament gathered to review a working draft that could form the basis for a future code of ethics.

Such codes “are aimed at helping people who want to do the right thing and also to bring things out into the open to make it less easy for skulduggery to take place”, said Peter Lilienfeld, a senior specialist in parliamentary procedure from the International Parliamentary Union.

The draft code, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, says its goal is to promote “a shared understanding among members of the ethical standards appropriate to their work” and establish “enforceable rules of conduct” in dealing with ethical issues in parliament.

A key component of the draft is the proposed creation of a register of financial interests, which would oblige lawmakers to provide information about their personal finances. A Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests would oversee the implementation of the code and have the power to penalise lawmakers who wilfully provide misleading details about their personal interests.

Lilienfeld, who created the draft, said Cambodian lawmakers had been “broadly” in favour of a code, and that their input would form the basis for a new draft code.

“I made it very clear that this draft can’t stand as it is – it needs to be a Cambodian draft, and it should be seen very much in that light as a discussion document,” he said.

Gifts or graft?
Lawmakers, however, seemed to dispute the extent to which traditional practices might be considered ethical under the proposed code.

Sman Teath, a lawmaker from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said “political” gift-giving should be disallowed, but that gift-giving for the benefit of others was a pillar of Cambodian culture that must be protected.

But Yem Ponharith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Party, said the practice of giving and receiving gifts should be tightly controlled.

“We see that gift-giving and corruption are very much close to each other,” he said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said discussion of the code was a good start.

“We need to realise that the opportunity for corruption takes place at the executive branch, so addressing [parliament] may not have much effect,” he said. “But if MPs have to declare their assets, maybe that would be a first step.... In the long run it could be quite a major thing.”

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