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Ranariddh promises to get tough on corruption

Ranariddh promises to get tough on corruption

PRINCE Norodom Ranariddh, pledging his personal commitment to fighting graft within

the government and his party, has vowed to fire any corrupt Funcinpec officials.

Speaking at an anti-corruption seminar last week, the First Prime Minister "solemnly"

declared that he would immediately fire any Funcinpec official if there was "sufficient

evidence" that they were corrupt.

Ranariddh supported the idea of passing anti-corruption legislation, but did not

directly support a draft law prepared by NGOs, saying the government would prepare

its own law.

The government has been promising such a law for more than a year. Ranariddh assured

that once it was written, and passed by the National Assembly, the government would

fully enforce it "with no exceptions... for reason of class or position."

Ranariddh was speaking at an April 25-26 conference on a "legal framework"

to combat corruption, organized by the Center for Social Development and the Parliamentary

Organization for Social Development and Democracy.

He said he had never said that Cambodian society nor the Royal Government was not

corrupt, but noted that other European and Asian countries faced even greater graft

problems.

He said corruption was one problem caused by two decades of war and destruction in

Cambodia but the government had made some progress, such as virtually eliminating

bribery from the education system.

Ranariddh urged several further steps, including the establishment of the Supreme

Council of Magistracy, the setting up of an independent national commission against

corruption and the severe sentencing of corrupt government officials under "existing

law."

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Ranariddh said low government salaries -

$19 a month for many civil servants - were one reason for corruption.

"The Singapore Prime Minister gets $63,000 a month salary, so no need to be

corrupt," he said, adding: "I'm not saying that I am, please don't interpret

it like that."

The official salary of the Prime Ministers is believed to be about $70 a month, but

they also each receive a $1,470 allowance.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen was too busy to attend the corruption seminar, but

co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng accepted an invitation to speak.

Kheng told the seminar that corruption was a social disease which existed around

the world.

He maintained that corruption had been "re-born" in Cambodia after the

former communist State of Cambodia regime began to move toward a market economy,

and had grown with the increased trade and foreign investment under the Royal Government.

Corruption, he said, affected both the civil and military structure of Cambodia by

depriving the government of hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue each year.

An anti-corruption law was urgently needed to help Cambodia's rehabilitation and

development, he said, and "for myself, I have and will continue to participate

actively" in such moves.

The conference was addressed by the Ambassadors of Singapore, Australia, the United

States and the Philippines, and corruption watchdog experts from Australia, Singapore

and the Philippines.

Singapore Ambassador Mushahid Ali attributed Singapore's clean record on corruption

to firm political willpower and effective law enforcement.

Philippines Ambassador Thelmo Y Cunanan said that country's "unprecedented corruption"

under the 20-year Marcos regime had proved the old adage that "absolute power

corrupts absolutely".

But since the "people power revolution", Filipinos had been successful

in taking firm action against corruption, including the conviction of former First

Lady Imelda Marcos and an assortment of former and current government officials.

Organizers of the Phnom Penh conference were pleased with the comments by Ranariddh

and other government officials, but questioned whether they represented a firm commitment

by the coalition government.

Son Chhay, a Buddhist Liberal Democrat Party MP and conference co-chairman, said

MPs and NGOs believed they had the right to draft laws. For the government to say

anti-corruption efforts would have to wait until it drafted its own law was "not

acceptable", he said.

Son Chhay said that Ranariddh had "mentioned he would get rid of corrupt elements

in his Cabinet" and "people would like to see that action will take place

after what he has said."

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