Transparency International (TI) has ranked Cambodia as having the lowest score in the ASEAN region, corresponding to the highest level of corruption. Government officials dismissed the rating as not reflective of the reality in the country.
On January 28, the TI Secretariat in Berlin, Germany, released the results of the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Cambodia scored 21 out of 100 – an improvement of one point over 2019, ranking 160th among 180 countries and territories.
“From a regional perspective, Cambodia continues to occupy the third lowest spot in the Asia Pacific, coming above only Afghanistan and North Korea, and the lowest spot in the ASEAN region. The results obtained by other ASEAN countries have been mixed,” TI confirmed.
According to TI’s findings, Singapore continued to be ranked among the top 10 least corrupt countries in the world, repeating its score of 85 and tying for third place with Sweden and Switzerland.
Several countries in the region saw their scores decline from the previous year: Myanmar (down from 29 to 28), Vietnam (37 to 36), Malaysia (53 to 51) and Indonesia (40 to 37). Thailand, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines maintained their scores.
TI stated that Cambodia’s results reflect some progress the country has made, including in its efforts to reduce corruption in the private sector, reform management of public finances through optimising resource mobilisation, foster e-government and improve public services, particularly in response to Covid-19.
TI added, however, that the improvement has not changed the overall perception of experts and business executives, particularly when key structural and systemic reforms that seek to tackle political and large-scale corruption and strengthen the rule of law are deemed to have made little to no progress.
In fact, in both the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2020 and the Varieties of Democracy 2020 index, which measure countries’ efforts to advance the rule of law and democratic development, respectively, Cambodia continues to receive the lowest scores.
In a press statement on January 28, TI Cambodia executive director Pech Pisey said that a persistent low score on the CPI index indicated ingrained political and institutional shortcomings in a country.
He added that in the time of Covid-19, corruption poses a double threat for many low income economies. According to the findings, most of the countries with the highest levels of corruption are also those with problems regarding freedom of expression and democracy.
“Although Cambodia has achieved noticeable results in its Covid-19 responses as well as in its public administration and public financial reform programmes, the CPI score suggests that far more needs to be done to address this most pressing issue,” Pisey said.
He said that in order to reduce corruption, the government should expedite reform agendas by strengthening institutions responsible for promoting the rule of law and address gaps in the implementation of anti-corruption legislation.
Pisey hoped for active participation from civil society organisations, media and the citizens in the fight against corruption. Reducing corruption would improve the business environment and promote fair competition which is needed for Cambodia, he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on January 28 that Cambodia was not interested in TI’s ranking because it was not an accurate depiction of the Kingdom, nor did it affect investments in the country.
“I am not interested in the scores that organisations have given to the Cambodian government because the government is effective in providing services to the public. In terms of attracting investments, Cambodia ranks well, which is encouraging and shows progress in the fight against corruption,” he said.
Siphan stressed that such findings are not necessarily accurate and may not reflect real situations in society.