While Cambodia attempts to deal with rampant cheating scandals, state employees doubling up on pay checks and the perceived manipulation of its justice system by government actors, civil society members gathered yesterday to discuss ways of moving forward efforts to understand and tackle corruption in the Kingdom.
The discussion was focused around a talk by Transparency International Cambodia (TI) executive director Preap Kol dubbed Understanding and Preventing Corruption in Cambodia.
Kol’s speech emphasised the facts, figures and culture surrounding corruption in the Kingdom’s context.
“When I was growing up, I heard my parents and elders saying that, ‘If you are working and [earning] money [but also] have the opportunity to enrich yourself and you don’t do it, you’re stupid’,” Kol said.
“They said it’s like chicken sitting on top of the rice, and you don’t eat the rice.”
It’s this kind of attitude, Kol stressed, that has led to students relying on cheating to succeed in standardised tests, or government employees abandoning their duties to pick up more cash while still on the clock.
Kol added that despite many of the country’s citizens recognising the ills that corruption causes – 80 per cent of Cambodians believe that ordinary people can effectively fight corruption, according to TI figures – too many are still willing to partake in bribery and graft to gain access to services that they should generally have a right to.
Still, he said after his speech, he believes that both structural reforms and educational messages can slowly stamp out corruption in the impoverished nation.
“When you get the people to see corruption as the biggest problem, then they demand that government do more and respond to their demands.
And that will trigger reforms,” he said.
While some reforms have already taken place – the Interior Ministry cracking down on its employee’s extracurricular employment, for instance – some panel members voiced concern that such measures may actually hurt anti-corruption efforts.
“The reality of Cambodia today is that salaries are so low that they have to have a second [job],” said Pou Sothirak, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.
“It’s the second job that brings the bread and butter to the table. “
But Interior Ministry Spokesman General Khieu Sopheak stood firmly behind his ministry’s decision, saying that state employees often neglect their duties for private enterprise.
“State employees should be in their office during working hours,” he said.