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Two politicians answer NGO appeal

Sourn Serey Ratha (right), head of the Khmer Power Party, meets Mears Samnang Kuy of Accountability Cambodia in Phnom Penh earlier this week. Photo supplied
Sourn Serey Ratha (right), head of the Khmer Power Party, meets Mears Samnang Kuy of Accountability Cambodia in Phnom Penh earlier this week. Photo supplied

Two politicians answer NGO appeal

As it has for the past two years, transparency NGO Accountability Cambodia is once again calling on Cambodian politicians of every party to voluntarily reveal their assets to the public. As has been the case for the past two years, it is finding few takers.

So far, two politicians have answered the call. As of January 10, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Lim Kim Ya and Khmer Power Party president Sourn Serey Ratha had both published their information through the organisation’s website.

While all elected officials are required by law to submit asset declarations to the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, the declarations are seen by no one – offered in sealed envelopes that remain unopened until the unlikely event of an ACU investigation.

Accountability Cambodia director Mears Samnang Kuy yesterday appealed to the two major parties to make their assets public, calling out Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha by name.

“CPP, who has been accused [of being] a corrupt government, has not answered. CNRP, who has claimed [to be] a democratic and transparent political party, has never allowed AC and its NGO partners to meet and discuss with Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha,” Kuy said in an email yesterday.

Kuy went on to call for all candidates for the upcoming commune elections in June to voluntarily publish their assets “in order to demonstrate their integrity and commitment against corruption”.

Kuy’s email also claimed that high-profile CNRP figures Son Chhay and Prince Sisowath Thomico both agreed to a meeting, then abruptly cancelled.

In 2015, Chhay, a senior CNRP lawmaker, expressed a willingness to publicly disclose his assets in response to a similar AC call for transparency, a position he maintained yesterday despite having so far failed to do so.

“The matter of declaring is not the problem,” Chhay told the Post, maintaining he had “nothing to hide”.

“As the opposition, we are not in a position to take bribes or make money,” he said.

“We have to understand this organisation a bit more,” Chhay said, adding he cancelled his meeting with Kuy only after being surprised to find members of the press present.

Chhay said he was open to trying to meet with the organisation again, on the condition it was done privately.

When reached via email yesterday, Rainsy did not directly answer whether he would publish his financial information, but did send the Post a list of assets totalling $420,000.

“No problem with transparency as far as I’m concerned,” Rainsy said, whose list included a home in Cambodia, the property on which it sits, and a car. He explained that his assets in France were acquired before his return to Cambodia in 1992.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday said that it was part of his party’s official platform to “make an amendment requiring public declaration” of financial assets for public officials.

Despite this, Sovann said public declarations were currently “an individual decision”, and refused to answer whether he himself would declare.

CPP mouthpiece Sous Yara similarly said that the existing law allows CPP officials to make their own decision.

When asked directly if the CPP believed the law should be amended to require public disclosure, Yara said “it’s not in our agenda”.

A Post investigation in 2015 revealed high-ranking current and former government officials on three-figure salaries living in mansions valued at more than $10 million, prompting accusations of corruption and hidden assets at the time.

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said his group would like to see public asset declarations required by law.

“The best thing would be for the government to amend the Anti-Corruption Law to require asset declaration to be public,” Kol said, adding that the families of public officials should be held to the same standards.

“This would ensure that the assets they have earned come from legal sources and not from corruption,” Kol added.

As for the sealed financial disclosures sitting in ACU headquarters, Kol was dismissive.

“If asset declaration is done secretly, it’s not a declaration”.

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