THE National Assembly has passed, without amendment, the government’s Anticorruption Law more than 15 years after it was first proposed, prompting renewed concerns from opposition members that it will do little to reduce the Kingdom’s endemic graft.
In a three-and-a-half-hour session on Thursday morning, the 29-page bill was swiftly approved by a unanimous vote of the 82 parliamentarians present. Prior to the vote, 16 lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party walked out in protest after the body rejected requests to modify 10 of the draft law’s 57 articles.
The SRP had called for the public declaration of assets by government officials, as well as a change to the composition of the new, 11-member National Anticorruption Council.
According to the law, members of that body will be chosen by the King, Senate, National Assembly and eight other government institutions. A separate Anticorruption Unit, under the Council of Ministers, will be in charge of the day-to-day investigations into corruption in the public and private sectors.
After leaving the session, SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said he was deeply disappointed with the law, and that the Anticorruption Council would be meaningless if government officials sat on it.
“Not even one of our points was amended,” Yim Sovann told reporters outside the assembly chamber.
“We are very disappointed, and I think that this Anticorruption Law will become a law defending corruption, because it lacks clear definitions.”
Yim Sovann also expressed concern about the Anticorruption Unit, saying its lack of an independent budget – Article 16 of the draft law puts it under the financial umbrella of the Council of Ministers – would hinder its effectiveness.
“The National Anticorruption Council and the Anticorruption Unit will be governed almost completely by the government,” he said.
“I do not believe the Council of Ministers has the will to combat corruption because we know the corrupt people are the people who have the power to decide everything, and the people who decide everything are the officials in government.”
In a statement issued Thursday, the Human Rights Party (HRP), which also boycotted the debate, stated that the law was nothing but an attempt to impress foreign donors, who have pressed for an anti-graft law for years.
“The HRP has taken the Anticorruption Law to show voters at the grassroots and received the same answer: that the Anticorruption Law does not have enough meaning to punish corrupt officials,” the statement read.
During Thursday’s debate, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An defended the law, saying that it will play a significant role in strengthening efforts to curtail corrupt practices.
“When we have this law our [Anticorruption] Unit will become an effective tool to fulfill a serious duty for government and society,” he said. Sok An also mocked opposition members’ criticisms of the law, telling them to stop pressing their concerns.
“This opinion should not be raised any more – it is incorrect. This law is very important. We have created it to combat corruption from the big to the small,” he said.
However, critics continue to blast the fact that the law was formulated in secret and with little input from outside sources.
On Thursday, a coalition of more than 200 civil society organisations issued a statement criticising the rushed passing of the law and the government’s rejection of a request for an extra month for NGOs and opposition members to study it.
“We, representatives of the alliance of nongovernmental organisations, are deeply disappointed that we could not get the assembly to change its decision to delay the debate over this important [law],” the statement read.
YOUR SAY THE ANTICORRUPTION LAW
Phuong Chhunleang, 24, student
San Thy, 29, tuk-tuk driver
Kum Sokun Bunnavath, 26, police officer
Sam Saveoun, 48, fortune teller
I have had experience with corruption since I was in high school [when] I gave money to the teachers to cheat on the exams. I think I would be crazy to be honest while others around me were corrupt. I am happy to see our country has a corruption law, but I don’t know if it will be efficient or not.
It is good to see the corruption law appear in my country, but it was very fast – I just heard the government will create the corruption law and now it is already done. I feel so surprised. What I am afraid of is that the lawmakers who created the law will step on the law, so that it is not effective.
The corruption law will reduce corrupt actions in our society and more investors will come to invest in our country. I think to create the law faster is better. I congratulate this law, but I think that the corruption will still remain, just less than before.
I welcome the new law which the National Assembly just approved. I hope that this law will help me and that no police or authorities will come to ask for money where I work. Police used to come and eject me from the street, but when I gave them 1,000 to 2,000 riels I could continue.