AT A GLANCE:
New anti-graft bodies
National Anticorruption Coucil
- Would be based at the former RCAF headquarters in central Phnom Penh
- Eleven members would be selected by the King, Senate, National Assembly and eight other government institutions
- Responsible for framing government anticorruption strategies. Would report directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen
- Under the aegis of the Council of Ministers
- Would be responsible for investigating graft cases in both the public and private sectors
- Would also maintain secret records of the personal assets of senior government officials, military officers and leading civil society activists
THE opposition Sam Rainsy Party will request a delay to this week’s scheduled debate on the government’s long-awaited anti-graft bill, arguing that it has not had enough time to study the controversial draft in detail, officials said Sunday.
The 29-page draft is scheduled for debate in the National Assembly on Wednesday, after being handed to lawmakers late last week.
Ke Sovannroth, the SRP’s secretary general, said the party planned to send a letter to the National Assembly requesting more time to look over the landmark law.
“While the ruling Cambodian People’s Party took over 10 years to draft [the law], the opposition just received [it] a few days before the meeting, and we haven’t had enough time to read and to understand the draft law,” she said.
On Sunday, Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, announced that his party’s three parliamentarians would boycott Wednesday’s proceedings to protest the rushed schedule, saying lawmakers need “at least two weeks” to study the law’s 57 articles.
“The draft Law on Anticorruption is very important, so we need more time to consult with target groups such as civil servants, businessmen and voters, because if the law passes without guarantees to their interests, our debates will be useless,” he said.
But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, dismissed the concerns, saying the debate would itself provide an open forum for discussion.
“The government has drafted a law, so they have to make a decision about that,” he said, questioning the motives of opposition lawmakers. “It is open for discussion, but they usually don’t take time to discuss the law – they just insult or harass the government.”
The draft version of the Anticorruption Law proposes the creation of an independent National Anticorruption Council and an Anticorruption Unit under the control of the Council of Ministers.
The council, which would consist of 11 members chosen by the King, Senate, National Assembly and eight other government institutions, would be responsible for the government’s overall anticorruption strategy and will report directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In January, Hun Sen said in a speech that the council would be based at the recently vacated RCAF headquarters in central Phnom Penh.
A separate Anticorruption Unit, under the leadership of a senior minister, would be responsible for the day-to-day investigation of corruption inside government offices and the private sector.
According to the draft law, the unit will also coordinate asset disclosures of senior officials, including the prime minister, senators, lawmakers, military personnel and senior police officials – information that will remain sealed from the public. It will also require “the leadership” of civil society organisations to disclose their assets.
Last year, international graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Cambodia 158th on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. In Southeast Asia, only Myanmar and Laos were rated at or below Cambodia’s level.
Assessing the draft
The anti-graft bill, first proposed in 1994 but not approved by the Council of Ministers in draft form until December last year, has been subject to criticism from civil society activists, who have expressed fears that it will do little to lower the Kingdom’s endemic corruption.
A key concern pertains to how members of the proposed Anticorruption Council would be appointed. Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said the body’s members should be chosen by an independent panel rather than by government bodies, most of which are dominated by the ruling CPP.
“We don’t want them to be appointed by the government – we want them to go through a selection committee composed of other groups,” he said, adding that the commission should report to parliament rather than the prime minister.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the passage of the Anticorruption Law would be a positive step, but that it would ultimately give the government fresh powers that could be open to abuse.
“I think the law will certainly give the government a lot more control. The question is whether it will also give the ruling party more control,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword – on the one hand you want [the law], but on the other it gives the government a lot more control over its citizens.”
Ou Virak said the law would likely be used to prevent corruption “from getting out of control” and harming the interests of the ruling party, much like laws that have been enacted – and implemented to a degree – by the ruling parties in China and Vietnam.
He said, however, that the government’s ingrained system of patronage would remain intact, and that implementation would vary with changes in the political climate. “Overall, [this law] is still a political document and will be implemented according to the political situation at the time,” he added.
Sek Borisoth, director of the anticorruption programme at PACT Cambodia, said the law was a “good step”, but added that all pieces of legislation are subject to a lengthy delay between introduction and full implementation.
“It takes some time – even in other countries. In Cambodia [the gap] is even clearer,” he said. “We need to set up new mechanisms and reform existing mechanisms in order to establish the implementation of the law.”
Legislation in the Anticorruption Law would not be implemented until at least November, when the Kingdom’s new penal code comes into effect. The code contains many of the charges under which corruption cases will be prosecuted.