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'Clean hands' meet scepticism

'Clean hands' meet scepticism

New anti-graft scheme receives tepid welcome by the private sector

A SCHEME that aims to reduce corruption by creating a "clean business" network in Cambodia was launched Monday in Phnom Penh.

The brainchild of international NGO Pact Cambodia, the Clean Business Initiative (CBI) is being billed as a force for integrity in the private sector.

Aaron Bornstein, head of the group's anti-corruption work, said the program, scheduled to take effect in January 2009, would curb some of the undesirable demands of conducting business in the Kingdom.

"We want to develop a coalition of clean businesses where they know not to expect those surprise phone calls after business is done," he said, referring to the under-the-table fees often demanded of commercial enterprises here.

USAID Cambodia mission director Erin Soto said her organisation would contribute money from its four-year anti-corruption fund of US$4.2 million, but would not specify the exact amount.

The chairman of the CBI steering committee, Hagar Social Enterprises CEO Talmage Payne, said the scheme was borne out of frustration by business leaders at endemic corrupt practices.

But Sandra D'Amico, managing director of Human Resources Inc, told the Post no local business associations have endorsed the initiative, which she described as a duplication of current private-sector efforts to improve the business environment  - such as the Private Sector Working Group - and called it little more than a new "stamp" that was an inefficient use of donor money.

"Belonging to a clean business club does not solve the challenges that businesses face or exclude you from having to pay fees or corruption.... I feel it is a publicity campaign that will play businesses off against each other ... and that is not good for the business environment."

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