While nearly 98 per cent of Cambodia’s youth agree that corruption is a key hindrance in the development of the nation, only 2 per cent know “a lot” about the government rules and regulations that prevent it – with less than 40 per cent familiar with the concept of democracy or the National Assembly.
And while 27 per cent of youths reported paying a bribe to receive medical treatment, 48 per cent agreed with the statement that such corrupt payments are a necessary part of providing for themselves and their families.
Those figures – released yesterday in a study by Transparency International Cambodia, and taken from a survey of 1,200 youths aged 15 to 30 – show that while youths are concerned about corruption, they also engage in it at an overwhelming rate.
Seventy per cent reported having used corrupt means to avoid a problem with police, and 49 per cent admitted to engaging in corrupt practices in order to pass exams. (After strict anti-cheating measures were enacted during last year’s grade 12 exams, only 25 per cent of students nationwide were able to pass.)
Endemic corruption, from the criminal justice system to education, has led to Cambodia being ranked as one of the world’s 20 most corrupt countries, according to a 2014 TIC index.
“The habit of corruption and nepotism has been deeply rooted,” said Ok Serei Sopheak, chairman of the board of TI Cambodia, at a presentation of the NGO’s findings yesterday. He described an imminent changing of the guard as leadership falls into the hands of the younger generation. “For youth, bear in mind that you cannot follow this same pattern,” he urged.
However, participants’ responses showed that while they understand corrupt practices to be technically unethical, they also consider them an ingrained part of life in Cambodia.
Why citizens are so accustomed to paying extra money to an institution, like a public health clinic, however, is not clear – in large part because there is very little public knowledge about how funds and resources are allocated by the government, said San Chey, a network fellow with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific.
“Everyone can see the corruption in the form of overcharging from doctors or police,” said Chey. “[But] there is no mechanism to allow the public or experts to monitor quality, [and] this lack of transparency has made public services poorer and poorer.”
TIC also pushed for the adoption of an Anti-Corruption Unit-proposed “whistleblower protection” law, which would allow people to feel more comfortable reporting corrupt practices, and demanded that a planned Access to Information Law meet international standards for transparency.
According to Chey, who noted the existence of little-followed anti-corruption laws, “for resolution to start, we [need] to have high-ranking officials who are clean and open to civic engagement and monitoring”.
However, as TIC’s report notes, Cambodia’s youth – who make up a whopping 65 per cent of the population – are overwhelmingly in the dark about how government conducts itself.