"SO what is this conference all about?" asked a former cabinet minister over
breakfast. He was told it was about corruption.
"What... how to do it
His reply might have been a bit cynical but within 20 minutes of this brief
exchange the Preah Raj Academy's Conference on Corruption opened - with a
The first blow was the "no-show" of opening key-note speaker
First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
The second was MP Sam
Rainsy, who presented a stinging nine-page private report on corruption
allegations just two hours after the March 2 conference began.
conference was saved by a virtuoso, impassioned closing by Second Prime Minister
Hun Sen spoke for more than 90 minutes, delivering the sort of
message that ICORC donors will now expect to hear in Paris from March
Hun Sen said that corruption and human rights questions were not
alone a Cambodian problem, especially within a new administration.
Sen thanked the governments of Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand for sending
their "graft-busting" experts to the conference.
"Cambodia is not the No.
1 country for corruption," he said, though that did not mean Cambodia did not
want to move to eliminate it. "Corruption is a phenomenon that happens in every
He offered concessions, among them an agreement to debate an
anti-corruption law and asset declarations by high officials. Hun Sen also said
he wanted a "strong" press, though this seemed short of hinting his consent to
drop the criminal charges in the draft Press Law, which would have softened to
some small extent the unpalatable sentencing of a newspaper editor just days
But he gave a clear warning that should ICORC donors listen to
Rainsy - whom he all but said was a traitor, whose claims were "politically
motivated" and "against the Nation" - and squeeze aid money, then Cambodia would
slide back into its dark history. He even mentioned Somalia as an
"There is an appeal to the international community not to help
Cambodia... saying that (this) government is a professional thief."
think that is too much... I'm not scared to speak to the US ambassador," Hun Sen
said, adding that Cambodia had worked closely "as partners" with the
International Monetary Fund on Cambodia's economic blueprint.
mentioned attending a recent confidential, pre-ICORC meeting at the IMF with
Keat Chhon and Ranariddh among others. The Post understands that the IMF was as
candid in its concerns as have been the Western aid donors.
"If you look
to cut assistance because you see problems, that is your right," Hun Sen said,
pointedly at the Western ambassadors.
He said if ICORC accepted the
appeal of personalities that "had gone beyond the Nation" for aid to be cut,
inflation would rise and it would become "a political problem."
said corruption was a problem that had to be solved because it hindered
development and destroyed the political environment.
In what must land
Rainsy in a whole new mess of trouble, the former finance minister slapped the
administration as "more chaotic and less transparent", with "certain leaders
treat(ing) state assets and the property of the nation as their own personal
Western donors have already said that at the ICORC meeting
on March 13 - 15 they are very keen to quiz Cambodian leaders about how they
intend to fight corruption, and defend human rights.
But as the
dignitaries took their places at the beginning of the conference - including
ambassadors Charles Twining (United States), Paul Reddicliffe (Britain) and Tony
Kevin (Australia) - it became apparent that Ranariddh would not be
In his place was a rather bemused Minister of Education, Youth and
Sport, Tol Lah, who explained that Ranariddh was busy.
informed organizers only hours earlier he was not going to show.
Minister and fellow ICORC delegate Ung Huot was to have been Ranariddh's
replacement, but said he was sick.
Tol Lah said he had only been told to
attend at 7am that morning.
The audience was more disappointed after Tol
Las had finished Ranariddh's address.
"There was nothing concrete about
government policy (on fighting corruption)," said one attendee. "It was very
soft, very disappointing."
Tol Lah began Ranariddh's speech: "I am very
pleased to see so many familiar faces among the audience." And later: "It is
equally a privilege for me to be behind this podium, in front of you, in order
to share some of my personal views regarding the theme of your conference."
Corruption was a big word with a very broad definition, Ranariddh wrote,
a definition that was very difficult to be precise about.
government's priority was to make Cambodia a "State of Law", and within that
mandate the Anti-Corruption Law was a high priority, he said.
said there were three major acts of corruption. The first was when a person
offered a bribe to a civil servant for favors; the second was the person
accepting that bribe.
The third, he said, was subtle and deceiving - a
"gift or honorarium."
Ranariddh said that in "the most developed
countries" officials had to disclose such gifts, or if greater than a certain
value to hand them over to the government.
"Cambodia, as perhaps in most
parts of Asia, because of her culture, the line between true gift giving and
corruption is often blurry. This is not an excuse however, the culture has
educated every Cambodian to be humble, gentle and giving."
later that afternoon, CDC chief and another fellow ICORC delegate, Sun Chantol,
was entertaining Singaporean delegates at the signing of four deals worth in
total $92 million. He said the commissions on similar deals - citing Ariston's
$108 million commission on the $1.3 billion Sihanoukville deal - was a positive
and successful spin-off for the Cambodian economy.
Rainsy used the same
word as Ranariddh - "gifts" - such as the $6 million Fokker 28 airplane and the
$108 million Ariston commission, but described them instead as "dubious" and
Rainsy said such business "tips" could be either
above the table or under it - "indeed, there is no rule to say that 'above the
table' and 'under the table' cannot go hand in hand."
Rainsy argued - in
a report clearly designed to be taken up by the ICORC donors - that such "tips"
or "gifts" should be deducted from the original price.
"Government employees have been reminded constantly of the level of moral
behavior expected of them. They are told 'Always be a good team player',
'Loyalty to clients come first', 'Honesty is the best and basic policy', and
'The public should be trusted,' and so on."
Rainsy described the
government's reforms as "so far... impossible because of a lack of political
will at the highest level..."
Twining, after the conference opening,
seemed very reluctant to comment on the upcoming ICORC meeting, though he has
previously been quoted in the Post as having conveyed his concerns to the
Cambodian government about corruption.
When asked whether the ICORC
donors might now grill the Cambodian government about human rights as much as
they would corruption, Twining said: "Oh, I wouldn't want to prioritize
One panelist said this "democratically elected government was the
first to have ever talked about transparency and fighting
"But whether anything can be done... or if this is just