The 50,000 members of the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC) are poised to strike
unless the government sends the draft anti-corruption law to the National Assembly
in 2007, a union leader said.
Ath Thorn, president of the CLC, said on December 27 that his union would not only
strike, but organize mass protests in the streets of Phnom Penh as a means of pressuring
the government to pass the long-awaited law this year. The government has been drafting
the law since 1994.
"Corruption among high-ranking government officials makes the poor suffer,"
he said. "We will gather many people together to push the government to first
pass and then implement the law to reduce corruption."
The absence of an anti-corruption law has allowed high-level corruption to proliferate,
"Increased corruption among high-ranking government officials is the main reason
the government is unable to the raise salaries of lower-ranking civil servants,"
CLC membership is drawn from a broad cross-section of the working population - including
civil servants, garment workers and construction workers.
The union believes that high-level corruption directly causes low-level corruption,
Thorn said. This is because by under-paying civil servants the government makes low-level
"Corruption destroys the whole system of society because it puts pressure on
civil servants to exploit those weaker than them," Thorn said. "As a result
of this the population has come to hate civil servants, teachers, policemen, and
Although the Council of Ministers has recently passed a decree that will give the
country's estimated 167,000 civil servants a 15 percent salary increase from January
1, 2007, union leaders still say this is insufficient.
Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), wrote
to Hun Sen on December 26, 2006, saying that the rise - equivalent to approximately
12,300 riel extra per month - was not enough.
The government's ongoing failure to pass the anti-corruption law is a fundamental
stumbling block on the road to raising salaries, eradicating low-level systemic corruption
and thereby improving the overall quality of civil servants in Cambodia, Chhun told
the Post on January 8, 2007.
"The government, especially Hun Sen, lacks the will to adopt [the law on anti-corruption],"
he said. "They don't want it adopted, as to do so would affect the benefits
some [high ranking] officials currently receive."
If the government continues to allow the anti-corruption law to languish in the hands
of officials rather than sending it to the National Assembly for debate, Cambodia
can expect to see social inequality worsen over 2007, Chhun said.
"If Hun Sen does not allow this law to be adopted it will most affect the teachers
and other poor people," he said. "Year after year the poor get poorer as
one small group in society gets richer and richer."
Although Chhun had not heard of CLC's plans to strike, he said he fully supported
"I would love to participate with whatever that can serve the benefit of the
nation," he said. "The law about anti-corruption is very important for
Civil society leaders said that the anti-corruption law and the raising of civil
servant salaries must be done simultaneously.
"First of all you must pass the law then second you can raise salaries,"
Kek Galabru, president of Licadho, a local rights NGO. "If you don't raise salaries
but you pass the law you end up in a catch 22 - you can't prosecute all the civil
servants who have only $20 a month - the law would be useless."
Members of the donor community called for patience rather than public demonstrations.
"The government has been working on the anti-corruption law for quite a while,"
said Arjun Goswami, Resident Representative at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
"They would obviously wish to pass this legislation, but the legislative process
takes time. In our view, patience and persistence [is better than pressuring them
into a] headlong rush which would not serve anyone's interest."
Sek Barisoth, director of the anti-corruption program of PACT-Cambodia told the Post
on December 27 that there had been no progress on the draft law on anti-corruption
since the inter-ministerial meeting at the Council of Ministers in August.
The draft anti-corruption law is now in the hands of individual ministries who are
scrutinising it for any technical problems, he said.
"Technical problems have been debated for too long," said Barisoth. "We
do not know for sure why it is taking so long, but we may suppose that it is intentional
[on the part of the government] to delay like this."
Monh Saphan, deputy chairman of the legislative commission of the National Assembly,
didn't know when the legislation would reach the Assembly for debate.
"The anti-corruption law is still in the hands of government officials,"
he said. "I cannot predict when it will come to the National Assembly."
The government is currently tackling corruption with a "light fist," Om
Yentieng, the government's new anti-corruption committee chief and adviser to Prime
Minister Hun Sen, told a press conference at the Council of Ministers on December
But Galabru warned the government might not treat protesters demanding the passage
of the anti-corruption law with quite the same "light fist" they were using
to fight corruption.
"Peaceful protest is a fundamental right, but I am worried," she said.
"[Police] should protect demonstrators, not attack them. But the situation in
Cambodia is different."
Although the right to peaceful demonstration is enshrined in both the Cambodian constitution
and a number of international treaties ratified by the government, Galabru warned
that CLC protestors should be careful.
"I am really worried about the reaction of the government," she said. "It
is the right of every Cambodian citizen to demonstrate peacefully, [but] I worry.
We will monitor any strike carefully."