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Asset declarations still out

A motorbike passes in front of the Phnom Penh headquarters of the Anti-Corruption Unit, which on Monday announced it would expand its asset declaration program.
A motorbike passes in front of the Phnom Penh headquarters of the Anti-Corruption Unit, which on Monday announced it would expand its asset declaration program. Pha Lina

Asset declarations still out

Even as the Anti-Corruption Unit plans an expansion of its widely criticised asset declaration process, an announcement released yesterday noted that only 81 percent of officials had submitted their asset records as of Monday, despite yesterday serving as the final deadline.

According to Monday’s release, only 18,589 of the 23,029 officials required to disclose their assets to the government body had done so. Yesterday, Cheng Bun Kheang, chief of the asset declaration department, said he did not have the latest figures as his team was still accepting and processing forms.

“Most of officials who will miss the deadline are on a mission abroad or in the provinces . . . If they fail to declare, they must present mission letters and approval from their superiors,” Kheang said, adding that violators could face “punishment”.

However, the asset declaration process has long drawn criticism for its opacity. Currently, asset declaration forms sit in sealed envelopes that are accessible only to the ACU and can even then only be opened in the event of an investigation against an official.

Even when the ACU investigates officials accused of corruption, the information is not made public. Meanwhile, conspicuous displays of wealth by modestly paid government employees have long invited speculation of widespread corruption.

Monday’s announcement also noted that the ACU was considering broadening the pool of those required to declare assets to include all officials promoted by prakas starting in April. The move, it said, was prompted by increasing budgets at the sub-national level.

“There is reform that must be implemented based on recent activity. Huge amounts of money have been transferred to provincial departments, two or three times higher than the total budget of the ACU,” the announcement reads. It goes on to say that many corruption complaints had been made against prakas-appointed officials who had previously not been required to disclose assets.

However, transparency and anti-corruption advocates had a lukewarm response to the proposed expansion of asset submissions, reiterating the long-held contention that the exercise was pointless if the declarations weren’t made public.

“We welcome the government’s intention to require all public officials appointed by prakas to submit their asset report . . . However, submitting asset reporting forms secretly to the ACU is not an effective practice and does not meet international standard of asset declaration,” said Preap Kol, director of Transparency International (TI) Cambodia. TI recently rated Cambodia the most corrupt country in ASEAN.

Mears Samnang Kuy – of Accountability Cambodia, which seeks to convince officials to voluntarily disclose their assets – said he was sceptical there would be progress on the matter. “I can’t see it is going to happen with this government.”

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