Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP-led government failing to tackle corruption: opposition, civil groups

CPP-led government failing to tackle corruption: opposition, civil groups

CPP-led government failing to tackle corruption: opposition, civil groups

Cambodia's failure to enact anti-corruption legislation has

highlighted the current government's shortcomings in tackling graft, opposition

political parties and civil society groups say, adding that greased palms and

golden handshakes are a critical issue ahead of July's general elections.

A raft of new anti-graft measures,

including 15-year prison terms for government officials convicted of bribery, remain

stuck in legislative limbo, despite repeated demands by Cambodia's

foreign donors that anti-graft laws be passed.

Justice Minister Ang Vong

Vathana acknowledged that the draft anti-corruption legislation has yet to be

reviewed by the Council of Ministers, but told the Post on May 27 that its approval "will help to eliminate

rampant corruption."

The draft was submitted to

the council in June 2006.

However, a group of

non-government organizations, the Civil Society Coalition for Anti-Corruption, has

accused the government of lacking the political will to enact the law during

its current term of office.

Sek Barisoth, who heads an

anti-corruption program with Pact Cambodia - a member of the

coalition - said on May 20 that the National Assembly was in recess and there

was no indication the law would be enacted before the national vote on July 27.

Another member of the

coalition, Yong Kim Eng, president of the People's Center for Development and

Peace, added that the law's long delay - its enactment was promised to donors

by 2005 - only underscored the levels of corruption plaguing government.

Cambodia remains at the bottom if the corruption list compiled

Berlin-based graft watchdog Transparency International, which ranked it 162 out

of 179 countries in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The country is estimated by

the economic think tank Economic Institute of Cambodia to lose as much as $350

million each year to graft.

"We know that there are

powerful people in the government who are corrupt and this delay of 14 years

makes civil society suspicious about the government's commitment," Kim Eng

said.

He said the coalition had on

May 16 submitted to the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers a

petition containing the signatures or thumbprints of 1.9 million people from

throughout the country urging that the draft law be enacted without delay.

It was the fifth time such a

petition had been submitted to the assembly and the council since 2006 amid

growing public anger over corruption, Kim Eng said.

Opposition political parties

have also taken aim at the ruling Cambodian People's Party, which they blame

for the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars that could otherwise be used to

improve the lives of the country's people.

"Corruption has

contributed to social instability, violence, inflation and poverty," said

Eng Chhay Eang, secretary general of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), adding that

graft has also kept foreign investors from Cambodia.

While CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap

admitted that corruption remained a major problem for Cambodia, he said

the opposition was exaggerating its extent, adding that the ruling party would

also push through anti-corruption laws "in the first six months after the

election."

Pact's

Barisoth welcomed the parties' graft-fighting commitments, but warned that

anti-corruption legislation had to have the teeth enough to tackle graft.

"We

are happy with those parties commitment to pass the anti-corruption law during

the first six months after election, and we need an anti-corruption law that

meets international-standards," Barisoth said.

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