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Unions demand anti-corruption law

Unions demand anti-corruption law

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,

Thorn said.

"Increased corruption among high-ranking government officials is the main reason

the government is unable to the raise salaries of lower-ranking civil servants,"

he said.

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

survival-corruption endemic.

"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

soldiers."

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

the idea.

"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

the country."

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

6.

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."

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