Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Global Witness targets graft in Cambodia's oil and mining industries

Global Witness targets graft in Cambodia's oil and mining industries

Global Witness targets graft in Cambodia's oil and mining industries

The London-based group says foreign donors have not done enough to hold

the government to account for failing to fight corruption

ENVIRONMENTAL watchdog Global Witness has released a scathing attack on what it says is rampant asset-stripping and graft in the country's mining and oil sectors, saying that foreign donors needed to get tough on the Kingdom's government for failing to tackle corruption.

The statement, dated Tuesday, comes as donor countries gear up to meet in Phnom Penh on December 4 and 5 to decide on this year's aid budget, which amounted to about US$600 million last year.

"Cambodia's extractive industry is fast developing and has reached a crucial point. Revenue will soon be flowing, and opportunities to influence the government on this issue will decline. Cambodia's donors need to wake up to the potential disaster," said Gavin Hayman, Global Witness's campaign director, from London.

The statement precedes a major extractive industries report the group plans for January 2009.

"Cambodia is on the verge of a petroleum and minerals windfall, but both sectors are already exhibiting early warning signs of the corruption, nepotism and state capture,  which plagued Cambodia's forest sector," Hayman said.

Anti-corruption row

The statement comes as NGOs zero in on the Cambodian government's failure to deliver on promises to pass an anti-corruption law.  

Thun Saray, president of the human rights group Adhoc, said that the annual donor meeting has become little more than a showcase of the government's failure to deliver on its promises.

"If we look into the background of the government's promises to produce an anti-corruption law, we'll see that nothing changes. After the meeting, everything will remain the same," Thun Saray said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association who last week participated in a closed-door debate about the draft anti-corruption law, was also pessimistic.

He said that the demands of civil society groups have not been taken into account and that the proposed legislation contains vague definitions of corruption and how corrupt government officials would be punished.

John Johnson, spokesman at the US embassy in Phnom Penh, told the Post that each year Cambodia loses millions of dollars to corruption that would be better spent on improving the lives of its citizens.

"We continue to encourage the Cambodian government to pass an anti-corruption law that meets international standards," Johnson said.

"We have been encouraged by the signs that a draft is currently being formulated and look forward to its passage in the coming months."

Finance Minister Keat Chhon said that the government expects massive Chinese government aid next year.

China is not participating in the donor meeting. 

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD

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