THE National Assembly on Wednesday began debating the government’s long-awaited anti-graft law, more than 15 years after the legislation was first proposed.
During the day-long session, ruling party and opposition officials clashed over the controversial draft, as critics repeated their concerns that the law was being rushed through the legislature with little public input.
During the session, the first 15 of the Anticorruption Law’s 57 articles were passed by a majority of the 99 parliamentarians present at the time of the vote.
Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lawmaker Yim Sovann again called for a delay to the debate, as lawmakers were given less than a week to study the draft. “We have been waiting 15 years for this law. Why can’t we wait for three weeks more?” he said.
Yim Sovann pointed out that a recent survey by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) had found Cambodia was perceived by business executives to be the second-most corrupt Asian country, and said he doubted the new bodies would have the “political will” to fight graft.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the UN country team in Cambodia agreed that the law’s drafting process had been less than transparent.
The office noted “with concern that an extraordinary session was convened only days after the draft was shared publicly with parliamentarians. To its knowledge, no draft law has been shared with interested stakeholders, including civil society, since 2006,” the UN stated.
Among the parts of the law passed on Wednesday, Article 6 will establish a National Anticorruption Council consisting of 11 members chosen by the King, Senate, National Assembly and eight other government institutions. The council, reporting directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen, will be responsible for the government’s overall anticorruption strategy.
Article 11 calls for the establishment of a separate Anticorruption Unit, operating under the Council of Ministers, which will be responsible for the day-to-day investigation of corruption and maintain a secret register of assets belonging to government officials, political party leaders and some members of civil society.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay on Wednesday called on government officials to publicly disclose their own assets before coming after opposition and civil society leaders.
“As a principle, we must sweep garbage from the top – we cannot sweep rubbish from the bottom up,” he said. “People want to know how much money Son Chhay has made since he became a people’s representative in 1993. How much money does Deputy Prime Minister Sok An have?”
In his rebuttal, Sok An told the assembly that under the Anticorruption Law, all of those forced to disclose assets would be treated equally, and that maintaining secrecy was vital to ensuring that people come forward.
“The first step must have persons declare their property without worries,” he said. “We do not want to detain people in jail – we want to crack down on corruption.”
Critics are hypocrites: PM
Also Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen criticised civil society activists and opposition members for requesting a delay to today’s debate.
Speaking at the Phnom Penh launch of the Kingdom’s new penal code, which was approved by the National Assembly in November, the premier said such critics were hypocritical for pushing the government to adopt the law and then campaigning for its postponement a day before it was due to be debated.
“I used to comment previously that when the new penal code is used, the Anticorruption Law will also be adopted,” Hun Sen told an audience of 300 judicial and government officials.
“Today, if parliament holds a full session in the morning and evening, the Anticorruption Law should be approved today, or at the latest tomorrow.”
Hun Sen said the government did not take into account some of the recommendations from civil society and opposition parties because this would have complicated articles that had already been drafted.
“People are recommending to do this or to do that, so the solution is to follow the decision made by the majority voice from the parliament and Senate,” Hun Sen said.
He added that opposition officials who are not satisfied with the current draft of the law should put their efforts into winning the 2013 election, noting that they could amend it if they won.