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Taking corruption to school

Less than a week after a leading international corruption index found Cambodia’s public sector to have the worst perceived level of corruption in ASEAN, the prime minister has announced a plan to add anti-corruption education into the national school curriculum. But unions, the opposition and anti-corruption advocates say what is far more urgent is stronger enforcement of anti-corruption laws.

In an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday and released ahead of International Anti-Corruption Day events today, the government pledges its commitment to fight corruption and urges the Ministry of Education and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to embed anti-corruption education in the school curriculum by the next academic year.

“Corruption is the main cause of social injustice,” it reads. In it, the premier also calls on authorities at all levels and the private sector to “join together to clean out corruption to achieve the national development goals”.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association and the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, scoffed at that idea yesterday, calling anti-corruption education programs mere window-dressing by the government.

“What is important is the strong enforcement of the anti-corruption law and whether or not the ACU dares to investigate the corruption of the prime minister,” he said.

“Those who commit corruption are not normal people. It is not those who do not have any position. It is committed by the prime minister or ministers.”

But Preap Kol, executive director at Transparency International Cambodia, the global watchdog which recently ranked Cambodia 160th out of 177 nations in its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), said the government’s message was encouraging.

“This is not a new message, but I hope that the government leaders will hear this message more clearly and, more importantly, take the message into action by developing concrete action plans and measures to combat corruption sooner rather than later,” he said.

Kol added that the announcement was the first time the prime minister had issued an official message for International Anti-Corruption Day and that Transparency International had been working with the ACU to develop the educational curriculum.

“The work on education I believe is very important, but not very urgent.… While doing that, the government should pay more attention [towards] prevention and law enforcement.”

Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann said anti-corruption education would be beneficial in the long-term, but slammed the ruling party-led government for failing to target graft within its own ranks.

“The ACU does not have a real willingness to prevent it effectively, because those who commit corruption are senior people in the [Cambodian People’s Party] ranks.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the Kingdom had anti-corruption “laws, mechanisms and policy” and that the purpose of educational programs was to help Cambodians work together to combat it.

“Corruption happens in every part of society. NGOs and the private sector as well,” he said.

“We have to be together. We don’t go with who is wrong and who is right, we go with what is wrong and what is right,” he said.

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