Civil society and forest protection activists on Monday called for officials in the government and armed forces guilty of corruption and exploiting state property to be removed from their positions and have their assets frozen.
The request came after a government spokesman said Prime Minister Hun Sen remains firmly behind the implementation of the “fifth approach” at a Council of Ministers meeting on Friday.
Last year, Hun Sen added “surgery” – the removal of dishonest officials – as the fifth approach to better governance through sweeping reforms.
The prime minister warned that corrupt government and Military Police officials who used their positions to take part in corruption, seize state land or clear forest to use state land as their personal property would be discharged and have their assets frozen.
Heng Sros, an activist who investigates forest crimes in northern Cambodia, urged the government on Monday to seize the assets of officials who had used their position to commit corruption, clear state land and illegally log forests.
“A lot of government officials have been caught being involved in corruption, but very few have been removed from their positions, while the repossession of assets never happened,” he said.
Kreung Tola, a Mondulkiri-based forest activist, said he was not hopeful that the head of government would take action against corrupt officials.
Prime Minister Hun Sen had in the past ordered Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Deputy Commander-in-chief Sao Sokha to shoot rockets from helicopters at illegal loggers, but even this had proved ineffective, he said.
“I am not optimistic about the announcement. The implementation of crackdowns on forest crimes are brief and then things go quiet. Offences have consequently occurred more than ever before,” Tola said.
Pen Bunna, the local community empowerment programme officer at rights group Adhoc, said he had noticed that the fifth approach had recently been applied to corrupt officials, such as those at the Pursat provincial department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, but their assets had not been confiscated.
Three senior Pursat provincial officials were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on July 27 for allegedly extorting $100,000 from a factory owner in exchange for granting a construction permit. They have been placed in pre-trial detention.
Bunna said he was hopeful the announcement showed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s determination to act against a small corrupt group who harmed the good name of honest officials and the reputation of the government.
“We support the confiscation of assets from dishonest officials because they came from crime. We can assume the offences involved dirty money so the government needs to confiscate them as state property,” he said.
National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on Natural Resource Crimes spokesman Eng Hy said General Sao Sokha who is the body’s chairman, had begun inspecting logging companies.
Should it be found they are operating illegally, they will be subject to legal action, he said.
“On Monday morning, five locations in Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district were inspected, while in the afternoon nine in Kratie province’s Suol were checked.
“We will look at all locations as inter-ministerial officials assess deficiencies and prevent further timber trafficking to protect our forests,” Hy said.
Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) chief Om Yentieng declined to comment when contacted.