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Tackling graft takes more political will

Dear Editor,

An interesting platform has been set for the Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum by recent revelations of Total’s US$8 million contribution to a “social fund” as part of an oil deal with the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) and allegations of corruption against the Australian BHP Billiton and Securency companies.

The new Anti-Corruption Law is no “magic formula” to end corruption in Cambodia. Rather, the manner of its passing as well as its content serve only to exacerbate suspicions of an absence of the political will needed to tackle corruption.

As the article “NGOs list suggested govt reform” (May 26) firmly established, the issue of transparency must be top of the donor’s agenda at this week’s meeting.

However, it is not enough that the donors seek undertakings from the RGC in relation to transparency. Rather, they too must acknowledge their own responsibilities with regard to transparency, and apply those same standards to themselves and to their practices.

The Accra Agenda for Action, which was concluded at the 2008 High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Ghana, considers the effect of corruption on aid and places the burden of transparency on donors of aid through a number of duties, as follows:

“... publicly disclosing regular, detailed and timely information on volume, allocation and, when available, results of development expenditure to enable more accurate budget, accounting and audit by developing countries”.

With this in mind, the donors who attend this week’s meetings must remember that, once the pledges have been made and the cheques have been signed, the real work begins. It is no longer enough for donors to publicise their aid through the provision of figures.

As impressive as these figures sound – $951.5 million dollars in 2008 and $689 million dollars in 2007 – they do not provide much information by which to measure progress.

Accordingly, the donors must not only secure undertakings from the RGC that they will abide by stringent accounting and reporting procedures, but that they, the donors, must also act to ensure the integrity of their aid packages with the publication of information.

In this regard, they must publicise their respective aid agreements with the RGC as well as, and to the greatest extent possible, information concerning the priorities, prerogatives, projects and programs that those packages seek to put in place.

By applying stringent transparency procedures, donors can empower four very important watchdogs in the battle against corruption in recipient countries, as follows.

Intended beneficiaries
The principle of aid transparency reflects the fact that an informed population decreases the vulnerability of aid to corruption. Donors must act to ensure that the Cambodian people are informed of the amount of aid that the RGC receives but also what this aid is expected to achieve.

The media
The English language press in Cambodia, in particular, has proved itself to be capable of embarrassing the RGC. The recent publication on February 22 by The Phnom Penh Post of a document which outlined RGC plans for the funding of military units by private companies and individuals provides a good example of the role that the independent media in Cambodia can play.

By ensuring transparency and publicising information as to the aid given to the RGC, the donor community can ensure that if the entire proceeds of aid are not accounted for, the media will be in a position to ask some questions and, if aid has indeed been diverted, to name and shame the individuals in question.

The global economic crisis has ensured that there is less aid available internationally. One of the knock-on effects of this is that NGOs are likely to exact a greater degree of scrutiny on the effectiveness of the aid that does remain. With the provision of adequate information, NGOs will be an important ally to donors in the battle to protect their aid from corruption.

Just as an informed population in recipient countries is likely to decrease the possibility of corruption, an informed population in donor countries – whose tax payments make up the aid packages – can ensure that “dead aid” to recipient countries can have political consequences at home, too.

This letter does not seek to divert attention from the obligations of the RGC in terms of transparency where aid is concerned. However, in a system where corruption has flourished and, as is likely to be the case, will continue to do so, it is time for the donor community to act to ensure that the aid they provide goes to the intended beneficiaries and not towards widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

By empowering these important watchdogs through the provision of detailed information relating to aid, donors can do a great deal to ensure the integrity of aid in the absence of a willing partner in the RGC.

Ou Virak, President
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights

Send letters to: or PO?Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length. The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.



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