Transparency International Cambodia Chairman Rath Sophoan (L) and the group’s executive director, Preap Kol, speak yesterday at Phnom Penh’s Le Royale Hotel. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia has improved slightly in the realm of corruption compared with the previous year, the head of the country’s Transparency International office said yesterday.
The emphasis, it seems, is on the word slightly.
Announcing the new rankings of The Corruption Perception Index, which weighs independent research to judge countries on the level of perceived corruption in the public sector, Transparency International Cambodia director Preap Kol said Cambodia scored a 22 out of a possible 100, putting it at 157 out of a total of 176 countries.
The “highly corrupt” countries of Cambodia and Myanmar received some of the lowest grades compared with the “very clean” Denmark, Finland and New Zealand at the other end the spectrum.
Placed in the last few slots were Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.
Still, the figure for Cambodia is a tiny bump from last year, when it received a score of 19 and a ranking of 165.
To measure the improvement purely in terms of an Asia-Pacific list, Cambodia is now perceived to be less corrupt than Laos, but more corrupt than Papau New Guinea, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Preap said that while the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has made several important arrests, the fight against public graft should be fought on several fronts.
He urged the government to pass the Law of Access to Information, so the public procurement and budgeting process is brought out into the open, and to increase general awareness of the relatively new Anti-Corruption Law.
As for the ACU, Preap recommended that it strengthen its investigative resources, because it isn’t dealing with “ordinary crime”.
Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, dismissed the continued low standing that Transparency International bestows on Cambodia, and bristled at being placed behind some of the countries on the list.
“Transparency International should have changed their view towards Cambodia, because Cambodia today is the new Cambodia on the old land,” he said.
“That is why donors have continued to provide their overseas development assistance, more and more, because they have realised and they have sensed that the Cambodian government has been moving on the right track.”
As is the ACU, said Preap, though he added that the assistance isn’t enough.
“The ACU has done some remarkable work… They are moving down a positive path,” Preap said. However, “we would like to see more from them.”
But the ACU has been taking steps. In the past several months, it has been through a flurry of training, largely due to a five-year agreement between the unit and the Phnom Penh-based Samreth Law Group.
According to Ly Ping, an attorney with the law firm, a workshop on “Understanding Land Law” was held for about 70 ACU officials in October. Earlier, in June, Samreth Law Group organised a training session on “Disseminating Anti-Corruption Law” for 100 lawyers in the Cambodian Bar Association.
Since the inception of the ACU in 2010, only four arrests have been made. The first official brought in was anti-drug czar Moek Dara, who was convicted last year on several counts of bribery and corruption.
In a recent statement, ACU chief Om Yentieng, who declined to comment for this article, said the ACU had fielded hundreds of complaints, many of them credible enough for investigation.
Last month, the ACU followed through on a long investigation by arresting two officials, Preah Vihear deputy prosecutor Thol Kem Hong, and provincial taxation office boss Chea Sophal.
The tax officer is accused of embezzling payments intended for government coffers, and leaving tax forms unstamped, while Yentieng said that more than 800 complaints had been filed against the prosecutor.
But it’s not just the ACU’s investigative arm that is in need of resources, Preap said. He pointed out that an anti-corruption law has been on the books for two years, but “not many people are aware of it or how it impacts their lives”.
Since its official launch in 2010, the Cambodian chapter of the Transparency International, a worldwide organisation that monitors public graft, has been conspicuously absent from anti-corruption initiatives. That’s starting to change.
The group announced last month that it is set to launch a $2.5 million three-year program to monitor and record corruption.
Part of that is a project to publish all the fees for various public institutions, so Cambodians who are subjected to illegal fines won’t pay an unnecessary tax. Preap said that the list could be ready for distribution by January.
The hope is that it will alleviate the burden of bogus fees on the poor, and also ensure that someone isn’t breaking the law without knowing it.
“The people who pay over for fees are also subject to punishment,” he said.