GOVERNMENT critics have slammed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s appointment of Om Yentieng as head of the country’s new Anticorruption Unit (ACU), saying the choice does not bode well for efforts to eradicate graft.
Om Yentieng, a senior adviser to the prime minister and chairman of the government-run Cambodian Human Rights Committee, confirmed Thursday that Hun Sen appointed him to the post last week and pledged to carry out his duties in accordance with the law.
“We will focus toward cooperation in the process of investigation and the law,” he said.
The ACU – one of two bodies established by the new Law on Anticorruption, passed by the National Assembly in March – will be responsible for directing investigations into public and private-sector corruption. The body is set to begin its work once the law comes into effect in November.
But opposition officials said Om Yentieng’s track record raises concerns about his suitability for the position.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said that during Om Yentieng’s tenure as head of the Council of Ministers’ National Anticorruption Committee, the government’s pre-existing anti-graft body, corruption only worsened.
“Based on past experience, I don’t think that he can curb corruption,” he said.
“How can he work independently? He will be under the influence of the prime minister or the Council of Ministers.”
In February 2009, the London-based watchdog Global Witness reported that Om Yentieng was one of several high-ranking officials “quietly awarded” exploratory mining licences in a “non-transparent and highly dubious” manner.
The report accused Om Yentieng of involvement in the Float Asia Friendly Mation Company, which Global Witness alleged has extracted marble from areas in Pursat province that are protected under Cambodian law.
George Boden, a Global Witness campaigner, said Thursday that the group had “serious concerns” about the effectiveness of the new Anticorruption Law.
One “major area of concern”, he added, is the ability of the prime minister to appoint an effective anticorruption staff.
“This severely undermines the independence of the anti-corruption authorities in Cambodia, including the Anticorruption Unit,” he said by email.
When contacted Thursday, Om Yentieng rejected claims that he is unfit for the post.
“We are not surprised about the criticisms from opposition groups such as the SRP and Global Witness. For us there is nothing strange and they have never helped us – they only mock us,” he said.
Sar Sambath, a permanent member of the ACU, said he supported the appointment.
“I think he has enough ability to fulfill his duty and has done a good job so far in his work to fight against corruption. He is cooperative in bilateral discussions, regional discussions and global discussions that are finding ways to fight corruption,” he said.
But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said Om Yentieng’s appointment was discouraging.
“This appointment was an opportunity to send a signal of something new,” he said.
“This was an opportunity for them to make a statement, and I think they’ve missed the opportunity.”