DESPITE facing a rampant graft problem that has seen Cambodians paying bribes far more often than their regional neighbours, they have growing faith in the government’s ability to fight it, a Transparency International survey has found.
TI’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, which measures perceptions of corruption in 107 countries, found that half the 1,000 Cambodians surveyed in the past year thought corruption in Cambodia was decreasing, and only a quarter thought it was increasing.
In 2011, by contrast, only 30 per cent of Cambodian interviewees thought corruption was decreasing and 43 per cent believed it to be worsening, Preap Kol, executive director for TI Cambodia, said at yesterday’s press conference on the survey.
“We think perceptions changed because there were more arrests of corrupt officials,” Kol said, noting, however, that perceptions about corruption and reality do not necessarily correspond.
“According to our experience, when an anti-corruption campaign begins, people are hopeful, and they have trust, and the [country’s] score increases very quickly,” he said.
This year, 57 per cent of Cambodian interviewees, who were randomly selected from across the country, said the government’s actions against corruption were effective, and only 15 per cent said they were ineffective, with the rest neutral.
“But if the government cannot meet people’s expectations very quickly, the [rating] will decrease in the next few years,” Kol warned.
Indeed, although 81 per cent of Cambodian respondents said they believed ordinary people could make a difference in the fight against corruption, and about the same proportion said they were willing to report corruption and mobilise against it, the survey revealed serious shortfalls when it came to individuals addressing corruption in practice.
Fifty seven per cent of Cambodian respondents said they or someone in their household had paid a bribe in the past year, a proportion significantly higher than the 36 per cent or less reported in each of the other five Southeast Asian countries surveyed – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Moreover, 51 per cent of Cambodians said the most common reason for paying bribes was “as a gift, or to express gratitude”, compared with less than 25 per cent of respondents in the other five countries.
“In Cambodia, there’s a confusion between gift and bribe, while in other countries a bribe is [paid] to speed things up,” Kol said.
Meanwhile, 77 per cent of Cambodians who said they would not report an incident of corruption gave the reason as: “I am afraid of the consequences” – an answer given less than half the time in all other Southeast Asian countries but Malaysia.
“We think that Cambodia and Malaysia are similar in that way because they have the longest ruling governments,” Kol said, arguing that the long-standing concentration of power in both countries made it more difficult to call out corruption in government.
He added that Article 41 of Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Law, under which someone making unfounded accusations of corruption could be prosecuted for defamation, is a threat to whistleblowers, and recommended amending the law to protect those voicing concerns.
ACU president Om Yentieng and spokesman Keo Remy could not be reached for comment.