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Bribes R Us, agree public servants

Bribes R Us, agree public servants

Cambodian citizens rate public sector corruption as the Kingdom's leading

problem, states a survey due for release later this month.

The report,

based on research conducted in November and December, 1999, "presents a detailed

analysis and diagnosis based on a large-scale, scientific governance and

anti-corruption survey".

Among the country's other problems, said

Cambodians, were a lack of leadership, a high crime rate, the cost of living,

the high cost of health care, and unemployment.

The survey's respondents

rated public sector corruption between 'major' and 'very severe'. Many said that

demands for bribes by public servants were on the increase.

Public

servants agreed with that assessment: more than 25 percent conceding that

corruption was practiced in their organizations. They thought that on average,

around 10 percent of public funds were fraudulently diverted.

Sum Manith,

head of the Prime Minister's anti-corruption unit, said that the launch of the

Good Governance Action Plan later this month meant the public would soon know

the results of the inquiry.

"We would like several seminars to

disseminate that report, together with our good governance action plan. The

Prime Minister would like to launch it himself," he said.

The survey,

funded by the World Bank and conducted by local NGO Lidee Khmer, was distributed

at donors' meetings in both Paris and Tokyo, but is yet to be publicly

disseminated, said Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, the World Bank's chief in

Cambodia.

The survey found that corruption consumed around 2 percent of

household incomes. Respondents said they would willingly sacrifice a larger

proportion of their income if it meant eliminating corruption.

The most

criticized institutions were the country's courts along with the customs

department. The survey noted that respondents who had direct experiences with

the courts or customs were the most willing to sacrifice a proportion of their

income in exchange for eliminating corruption.

Manith said the launch of

the governance plan would give the government the opportunity to respond to its

critics, some of whom have been particularly vocal recently. The government was

annoyed at comments given at a recent anti-corruption seminar, not least those

by US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann.

"What we would like to explain to people

who criticize the government is that we want to solve the problem holistically,"

said Manith. "We don't say there is no corruption in Cambodia, but [the

government cannot] solve the problem by just adopting laws. We have to take a

holistic approach. We don't yet have legal and judicial reform, so if we adopt

the law, who will enforce it?"

He said that the replacement of Ouk

Vithon with Neav Sithong as justice minister was an important step that

demonstrated the government's willingness to tackle corruption.

"We

recognize that we have some weaknesses. We hope that the new Minister of Justice

will accelerate reform. This shows the government's will for reform, but it is

not as easy as someone from outside might say. To say things is easy, but to act

is difficult."

"We would like to have a Minister of Justice who has the

willingness to [implement] reform, which was too slow under the previous

minister. We hope the new minister will contribute more actively [to reform],"

he said.

For the record, not all institutions were criticized in the

report: NGOs and temples, as well as services for post, water and telephone,

received the highest ratings for integrity.

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