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PMs to give keynote speeches on graft

PMs to give keynote speeches on graft

A N unprecedented major conference on corruption and how to stop it will be held

in Phnom Penh next month, attended by a host of high-level Cambodian and foreign

guests.

The co-Prime Ministers are expected to give a public commitment

to fighting graft within government ranks when they give keynote addresses to

the conference.

Also attending will be the Minister of Finance, Keat

Chhon, and leading corruption-fighters from Hong Kong and Malaysia.

There

proposals-to define and outlaw corruption; set up an independent commission

against corruption; and require government employees, from top to bottom, to

publicly declare their assets-will be debated at the conference.

The

conference, on "Corruption and its Impacts on National Reconstruction and

Reconciliation", will be held at the Cambodiana Hotel on March 2-3.

Organized by the Perah Sihanouk Raj Academy, a recently-established

independent think-tank, it is part of an USAID-funded project to promote public

accountability.

Project director Pok Than said that he was the co-Prime

Ministers' agreement to speak at the conference as a sign of their commitment to

reducing corruption.

"By coming there, they will publicly admit they are

aware of the problem.

"I believe that this could be the first commitment

by the government to do something."

He said that by displaying a

willingness to fight corruption, government leaders could go to the next ICORC

meeting of foreign donors to Cambodia in Paris next month "with heads held

high".

Asked how genuinely-committed to deterring corruption the government was Pok

Than said: "I don't know how sincere it is, but I feel that there is no other

choice. They have to deal with this problem."

But he warned that

establishing an effective legal framework to tackle corruption would require

much work.

"You can make a weak [anti-corruption] law which will not do

anything. We have to make sure the law is strong enough and independent

enough."

Among those attending the conference-to speak on their

countries' anti-corruption measure-will be the Commissioner of Hong Kong's

Independent Commission Against Corruption, Bertrand de Speville, and the

Director of Malaysia's Anti-Corruption Agency, Lee Kwan Chiew.

Pok

Than believed that, in line with overseas experience, three laws were needed in

Cambodia:

  1. To impose penalties for corruption.
  2. To establish a truly independent anti-corruption commission, staffed by

    people of the highest integrity, to investigate and prevent opportunities for

    corruption.

  3. To require government employees-from ministers and judges to the lowest tier

    of civil servants-to periodically declare their personal assets.

Pok Than said no research had been done on the extent of corruption in

Cambodia-though he believed the number of people involved was small-nor was it

really needed.

"We have all heard the stories...The public knows what's

going on around here.

"You only have to look at public [ servants']

salaries and the way that some people live..."

He agreed that it would be

hard to eliminate corruption while state salaries were so low. But he believed

the government could afford to raise salaries if it recouped money lost through

corruption, imposed a better tax system and ensured all money from industries

such as logging went into public coffers.

He said the government was

drawing up its own anti-corruption laws, and individual MPs had drafted their

own, and a compromise between them was likely in the end.

BLDP MPs Kem Sokha and Son Chhay, who have prepared draft laws on the issue,

will both address the conference.

Kem Sokha told the Post that the two

MPs' laws had prompted a letter from the Council of Ministers saying the

government was drawing up its own anti-corruption measures.

"The

government doesn't want any law submitted by MPs, it wants to draft the law

themselves...it always wants to be higher than the National Assembly," he

said.

If the government rejected the MPs' draft laws, but failed to

produce an effective law itself, "it will mean the government doesn't want to

show corruption and...that the government itself commits corruption.

"It

is very, very hard to make war [on corruption] because the person who is corrupt

is the person who has power. Simple government officers are corrupt because they

have the top officers behind them," Kem Sokha said.

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