NONGOVERNMENTAL organisations have offered cautious praise following the approval of the long-awaited draft Anticorruption Law last week, but say the true test of the government’s commitment to stamping out graft will come with the law’s implementation.
Following its approval by the Council of Ministers on Friday, Council spokesman Phay Siphan described the draft as “a turning point” for the government in its attempts to strengthen the rule of law in Cambodia. This law “will let us know about abuses of power, maintain transparency and respect social equity”, he said.
The latest draft of the law, which has existed in various forms since 1994, has not yet been made public. But a statement released by the Council after Friday’s meeting shows it to be considerably shorter than previous versions. The statement said that the draft’s 57 articles were aimed at preventing corruption, punishing corrupt activities and fostering public participation in efforts to eradicate graft.
Phay Siphan added that the draft contains articles forcing civil servants and NGO workers to disclose the extent of their personal assets within 60 days of its passing into law.
NGOs said the passing of the law was a positive step forward, but that due to powerful patronage systems, the law will not prove a magic bullet.
“The law can be perfect, but in practice may not be possible to implement,” said Sok Sam Oeun, chairman of the Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability, a coalition of 40 local watchdog groups. He said the approval of the draft law raised obvious questions about the body charged with enforcing the law, as well as its relationship with the government and law enforcement authorities.
“We are worried about whether or not [these bodies] can decide without political interference,” he said. “There must be political will from the prime minister.”
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said it was almost certain the law would be misused in the short term, but that it would give activists a benchmark for judging official behaviour.
Over the long term, Ou Virak said, the erosion of the country’s endemic corruption could come from both top-down and bottom-up pressure, but that the latter – given legal backing by the new bill – would likely be more effective.
“In the long run, it will depend on the public,” he said. “That will be more slow and gradual, [but] it’s a more sure way of fighting corruption.”
Phay Siphan said the draft bill will be passed to the National Assembly within a week, but that he did not know when it is set for a vote.