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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - More graft, more govt support: TI

More graft, more govt support: TI

More graft, more govt support: TI

Kingdom gets mixed report from corruption watchdog.

CAMBODIA has the highest levels of bribery in the Asia-Pacific, but popular perceptions of anti-graft efforts appear to be improving, according to the latest report by global corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).

The group's "2009 Global Corruption Barometer", released Wednesday, noted increased popular support for the government's efforts to fight corruption, but also showed corruption worsening in key areas.

According to the report, which was based on interviews with 1,019 Cambodians in the country's "main provinces", 47 percent of respondents said they or a member of their family had paid a bribe in the last year - compared with the Asian average of just 13 percent.

Perceptions of corruption in political parties, the legislature and the judiciary also increased slightly, with 62 percent of Cambodians seeing the courts as the most graft-prone institutions in society.

But the report also found that 67 percent of respondents perceived government anti-corruption efforts as "effective", up from just 29 percent in 2007.

The report found the country was one of several where "the public appears to regard corruption as less pronounced" than what is reflected in TI's annual Corruption Perceptions Index, which rated Cambodia 166th out of 180 countries in 2008.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he had not seen the report, but that he was unsurprised at the support shown for the government's anti-corruption efforts.

"The government has never ignored the fight against corruption," he said Wednesday.

"The report says that 67 percent think the government is effective in eliminating corruption, but I think this figure is incorrect - it might be higher."

But Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said that the 67 percent figure was misleading, since so many Cambodians lacked the information to make an independent judgment.

"I think that [the people]... receive information from one side, such as television stations that are controlled by the ruling party," he said.

The release of the TI report comes amid controversy over recent comments by US Ambassador Carol Rodley, who cited "numerous studies" showing that Cambodia is losing up to US$500 million to corruption each year.

The statement, made in a speech at the Clean Hands anti-corruption concert at Olympic Stadium on Saturday, prompted a strong reaction Tuesday from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which labelled the comments "politically motivated and unsubstantiated", and called for their retraction.

In the wake of the government reaction, international NGO PACT announced Wednesday that it would delay indefinitely the release of its own corruption survey, scheduled for today.

Nuth Youthy, senior research officer at PACT's Mainstreaming Anti-corruption for Equity Programme, did not comment on the reason for the postponement and said he did not know when the press conference would be held.

But local observers say the government reaction was out of proportion to the comments.

"Rather than reacting negatively to the statements of the ambassador, the government should use it as a reason to investigate further," said Chheat Sreang, project coordinator at the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, agreed, saying that although it was impossible to measure corruption precisely in dollar terms, Rodley's comments were a "reminder that it is time to speed up measures combating corruption".

But Yim Sovann said that the $500 million figure was accurate and that corruption was in fact worsening in Cambodia.

"The government has no political will to push for an Anti-corruption Law, [since] many people in the CPP are involved heavily in the corruption," he said.

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