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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights groups blame government for delay in anti-corruption law

Rights groups blame government for delay in anti-corruption law

A statement issued Monday calls on civil groups to work with donors to push for government movement on draft legislation  

Slow path to justice

First proposed in the 1990s, Cambodia's anti-corruption law would see the formation of a Supreme National Council Against Corruption, comprised of a board of directors representing legislative and judicial bodies, and an executive body to conduct investigations.

GOVERNMENT inaction and a long history of pilfering by high officials have been blamed for the decades-long delay in enacting national anti-corruption legislation, a 10-member umbrella rights group said Monday.

"There is no political will to establish this law to punish corruption because powerful government officials have been involved in embezzling national properties," said Heang Rithy, head of the Committee for Strict Law Enforcement for Human Rights in Cambodia, in a statement.

The statement outlined potential strategies by which rights groups could pressure the government to formally adopt anti-graft laws, urging closer cooperation with donor countries and diplomatic missions. This could, the committee said, push the government to finalise its draft of the law and submit it to the National Assembly for formal adoption.

Cambodia needs independent institutions to review the private sector, the government and officials at all levels who must be required to declare their property and assets in order to combat corruption, said Heang Rithy, who is also president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation.

Officials must also be made to follow a stricter policy of good governance through the adoption of anti-corruption legislation, the committee  said.

Rampant corruption denies access to justice for all of Cambodian society, the committee said, because it contributes to an increase in poverty and presents the single-greatest obstacle to greater development countrywide.

THERE IS NO POLITICAL WILL TO ESTABLISH THIS LAW TO PUNISH CORRUPTION.

Lem Pichenda, president of group member Khmers for Emergency Relief and Development, said an anti-corruption law will never be enacted without strong government support. "We issued this statement to remind the government of this [anti-corruption] legislation," he said.

Unnecessary legislation?

Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Monday criticised the committee for refusing to face facts and for its ignorance of Cambodian law.

"If the government was not good, then donors would not have provided aid to Cambodia," he said, referring to an announcement Friday at the annual donor-government meeting of nearly US$1 billion in pledged aid for 2009.

"They have not provided us with millions of dollars for useless spending," he said. 

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