Cambodia has crept upwards in an international corruption ranking, but remains one of the most graft-ridden countries in Southeast Asia – in spite of recent government efforts to curb corrupt practices.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010 ranked Cambodia 154th out of 178 countries for public-sector corruption, a marginal increase on last year’s ranking, which placed Cambodia at 158th.
Though the country continued its slow climb in the rankings since dipping to 166th in 2007, it still came in well behind regional neighbours Vietnam, which was ranked 116th, Indonesia (110th), and Thailand (78th).
The Kingdom was rated on par with neighbour Laos and was well ahead of military-ruled Myanmar, which TI said was tied with Afghanistan as the second-most corrupt nation in the world.
This year’s index drew from 13 different expert and business surveys conducted between January 2009 and September 2010.
Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore were seen as having the world’s cleanest governments, while Somalia came in at the bottom of the rankings.The release of the TI index follows recent government promises to root out graft and increase public-sector transparency in Cambodia.
In April, the National Assembly passed the Kingdom’s long-awaited Anticorruption Law. By September, the National Anticorruption Council announced that it had established a five-year plan to fight corruption and was in the process of investigating 10 graft complaints against government officials.
NAC staff have also stated that up to 100,000 government workers will be required to disclose their assets to anti-graft investigators.
The new bodies, however, have attracted scepticism.
Earlier this month, international watchdog Global Witness said the government’s anti-graft drive was little more than “reformist rhetoric” designed to pacify international donors.
Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the situation had clearly not improved.
“[The ranking] is a perception only,” he said. “But we should look at the concrete actions taken by the government. If we look at the political signs, nothing has changed.”
He added that the government’s effort to combat corruption had focused on low-level officials, such as policemen, but ignored high-ranking officials who are embezzling state assets on a large scale.
NAC spokesman Keo Remy could not be reached for comment, while Om Yentieng, the body’s chairman, said he did not have time to answer questions.
But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, dismissed the relatively low ranking awarded in TI’s index.
“I don’t pay attention that much. It’s not accurate,” he said, adding that it was impossible to compare countries of differing sizes, cultures and economic systems.
Phay Siphan said the new anticorruption bodies demonstrated the government’s commitment to fight graft in partnership with civil society and the Cambodian people.
“Everybody in Cambodia is talking louder against corruption,” he added.