From extortion and nepotism to bribery and graft, corruption pervades almost every
aspect of Cambodian life, a recent study has reported.
Transparency International and the Center for Social Development (CSD) released a
National Integrity Systems (NIS) study of Cambodia on December 19 that provided a
grim assessment of the systemic scale of the country's notorious corruption.
The study said that despite signs of the government's will to tackle the issue, a
decade of political peace and billions of dollars in aid have not adequately strengthened
the mechanisms needed to prevent it. Such systems are still weak and lack the capacity
to carry out their functions properly, the report states.
Corrupt practices take many different forms: from low-level informal payments for
basic public services such as medical care, school grades, and court verdicts, to
high-level "big-ticket" cases.
Everyday forms of corruption have become so prevalent that households acknowledge
them as routine. Although no Cambodian regarded paying bribes as fair or acceptable,
citizens feel they lack sufficient power to confront or change the system, the study
High-level corruption, which can take the form of financial aid diversion through
various ministries and levels of government, is most difficult to quantify, according
to the study. Another area of major concern is the overlap between private-sector
business and the country's political elite.
"[Privatization] has led to the control of many state-owned enterprises and
land concessions being granted to prominent politicians," the study read. "According
to a recent study 'Since the 1980s, 20 to 30 percent of the country's land, the main
source of its wealth, has passed into the hands of less than one percent of the population.'"
The study made a number of recommendations intended to remedy the situation. Of primary
importance is the enactment and implementation of an anti-corruption law that complies
with internationally accepted standards.
The government has been dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a draft anti-corruption
law since 1994.
Other key measures cited were judicial reform, the introduction of a freedom of information
law, and the reform and strengthening of existing anti-corruption bodies or their
dissolution into the Supreme National Council against Corruption - a national-level
anti-corruption body that would be established through the anti-corruption law.
The study concluded that Cambodia's overall "integrity system" is quite
weak with corrupt, protectionist structures well-established within government systems.
Checks and balances are largely ignored and mechanisms for oversight are controlled,
at least financially, by the executive branch and lack the capacity to perform their
functions. Changing this will be difficult, the study said, and will require concerted
effort from the government, international donors, and civil society.
"There is little to motivate a ruling party with a powerful top leadership to
reform a system that works largely in their favor apart from imposing substantive
costs," the study stated. "Donors are the only real players with this kind
of leverage and need to take a more stringent approach when dealing with the government."
The NIS Study of Cambodia is part of a regional project to analyze the integrity
systems in East and South East Asia. The concept of the NIS has been developed and
promoted by Transparency International as part of their broader global approach to
While no blueprint for an effective system to prevent corruption exists, there is
a growing international consensus as to the salient institutional features that work
best to prevent corruption and promote integrity, TI wrote in a press release December
The country studies draw on an in-depth assessment of the quality of institutions
relevant to anti-corruption. Such organizations, laws and practices are analyzed
for their contributions to integrity, transparency and accountability and the extent
to which they function.