Before former Transparency International Cambodia (TI Cambodia) executive director Preap Kol stepped down earlier this month, he delivered a 17-minute speech sharing his views on the fight against corruption in the Kingdom.
During his time at TI Cambodia, Kol said he had laid a foundation to fight corruption by building courage in people, raising awareness, motivating youths to join together and encouraging the government to focus on eradicating it.
He said he has seen improvement in tax reforms, which have yielded 18 to 20 per cent more revenue over the past three years. He also came away impressed with educational improvements, as shown by recent high school examination results.
Kol lauded a payment reform which allows government and civil servants to have their salaries banked directly into their accounts. This could stop salary cuts, which have happened in the past, he said.
“According to the Global Corruption Barometer 2016, bribery rates or unofficial fee payments for essential services such as applying for ID cards, civil registry, utilities and health have decreased quite significantly to below 50 per cent.
“It used to be over 80 per cent back in 2011. This is a remarkable improvement,” Kol told The Post on Monday.
But he said the improvements abruptly froze after the commune elections in 2017.
Kol counts Cambodia as among the 20 most corrupt countries in the world and the most corrupt among ASEAN nations.
“This is due to a lack of structural and essential improvements in areas that carry fundamental importance such as the judicial system, rules of law, political accountability and a system of checks and balances.
“In short, I am not satisfied with the results of Cambodia’s fight against corruption.
“Nevertheless, I tried my best while in my position . . . in the name of a civil society official and a citizen,” Kol said.
He said the reforms that are necessary for Cambodia will only be achieved when there is a genuine political will to fight corruption at the highest levels of the ruling party.
Kol wants to see reforms which ensure the independence of the judicial system, the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) and the National Audit Authority.
He said Cambodia needs to amend the existing Anti-Corruption Law to make asset declarations public for officials and their families.
He stressed the need to expedite the passing of the Access to Information and Whistle Blower Protection laws as well and urged the country to ensure freedom of speech for civil society organisations, media outlets and trade unions.
Lastly, Kol said the country needs to re-establish political accountability mechanisms and ensure the survival of opposition parties that are functional and credible.
“I think the government has tried to fight corruption in certain areas. In other words, they’ve done it selectively rather than doing it holistically.
“The written strategy of the government to fight corruption, which includes education, prevention and law enforcement, sounds very good. But the actual implementation of that strategy seems to focus more on education and prevention and very little on law enforcement,” Kol said.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said Cambodia has a three-tiered mechanism in place to fight corruption.
The steps are raising awareness among the public, observing state institutions for corrupt behaviour and taking legal action in accordance with corruption laws.
“The ACU has deployed its officials to local areas. So, we’ll start with education as a long-term mechanism. Secondly, we have surveillance mechanisms at ministries. The last step is to eradicate corruption, not just prevent it.
“We have the will to do it. What Preap Kol said, we thank him for his attention to fighting corruption. But this task is not yours alone in Cambodia. Citizens and young people must join the fight against corruption.
“He has the right to express his concerns because he is an onlooker and speaker, but we doers have done things to fight corruption already,” Siphan said.
He said the private sector in cooperation with the ACU has also contributed to the fight against corruption. “So, fighting against corruption is not only done by NGOs. We work together, step-by-step,” he said.
Former opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrath said he had seen civil societies fight against corruption, but in the end, everything rests on the will of the government.
“We have seen that corruption in the last 20 years has not decreased much. It keeps continuing and everyone knows that.
“The judiciary is considered to be the most corrupt. Secondly, it is within the Ministry of Interior, and other institutions. The improvement has been small. Now we don’t see corruption openly,” Chanrath said.
Chanrath said corruption will continue if the leaders stay at their posts for too long. To start solving it, Cambodia must enforce democratic principles by giving the power to the people to vote for their leaders in a genuine way.
“When there are more changes of power, I believe that corruption will disappear,” he said.
Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute director Kin Phea said while corruption still exists in Cambodia, it has decreased in the last 10 years.
He admitted that there is no clear indicator to prove the extent of the improvement, but he said measures taken by the ACU have been effective.
Phea also noted that citizens are able to report directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen through Facebook if they suspect corruption.