Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A big year with so little



A big year with so little

A man walks past the Anti-Corruption Unit office in Phnom Penh.
A man walks past the Anti-Corruption Unit office in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

A big year with so little

Cambodia ranked 150th out of 168 countries assessed for the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 2015. Out of a possible score of 100, Cambodia took home 21 in both 2015 and 2014, maintaining the status of a highly corrupt country. Cambodian people had long perceived that the scoring reflected a dire need to implement many areas of reform in the public sector. In response to people’s perceptions on the fight against corruption, Transparency International Cambodia has recommended the creation of an independent judiciary, enactments of the Access to Information Law and the Whistleblower Protection Law, on top of amendments of a few articles of the current Anti-Corruption Law. At the core of these areas of reform, it has been generally acknowledged that nepotism and conflict of interest must be urgently addressed.

It is neither novel nor profound to say that becoming a rule of law country is in Cambodian people’s best interests. Conceptually speaking, rule of law requires three fundamental elements at least. First, it means that all governmental acts must be in accordance with the prescribed laws. No law, no action. Any regulations or decisions not directly permitted or implied by law are illegal. Secondly, because laws can be ill-intended or purely politically motivated, in order to safeguard people’s freedoms, the use of legal authority must not be abusive. In other words, there must be an effective checking mechanism on the use of any discretionary power of the government. The third element derived by the rule of law concept, therefore, is that the branch that settles disputes between government and citizens – the judiciary – must be a politically and technically independent branch.

The people may ask then: Where does Cambodia stand with regard to the rule of law criterions? On the first element, it is fair to say that Cambodia has adopted a large amount of laws and regulations, especially the latter. Given the high volume of regulations (signed by the head of the government and ministers), some commentators might even wonder whether it would be more fitting to call Cambodia a rule of regulations, rather than rule of law.

Regardless of individual theories, it is clear that Cambodia still lacks two crucial legislations identified above: Access to Information Law and Whistleblowers Protection Law. The natural impact of these two laws is that government as a whole would be opened up to public scrutiny with its commitment to transparency being evaluated by ordinary citizens, the users of the public services. On the other hand, while there have been plausible efforts in drafting the two legislations, if they neither get adopted quickly nor live up to internationally acceptable standards, their usefulness will be questionable at best.

On the second element, news coverage remains filled with stories of abuses of power almost on a daily basis. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a court decision that has invalidated any governmental regulation or decision on the basis of the abuse of discretionary power. In France, the UK or the US, people celebrate the work of their courts. Judges in those countries are actually the best guarantors of individual freedoms against governmental infringements on their freedoms. This inability to invalidate unlawful or abusive use of power owes to the fact that Cambodian people have perceived the judiciary in Cambodia to be not independent. This could explain one reason why people have not wanted to bring a lawsuit against the administration. Actually, looking back, when the so-called three judicial laws were being enacted, both domestic and international jurists pointed to many defects in those laws that would work against the independence of the judiciary. Sadly, so far no amendments have been made to help improve judicial independence.

The CPI 2015 showed that a strong and effective mechanism to fight corruption was not yet in place. Key areas that needed reforming the most judicial independence, efficient law enforcement, better service delivery – also had limited results. Furthermore, in order to fight against systematic corruption, nepotism and conflict of interests shall have no place in the public administration.

Maintaining high economic growth is a good achievement to be proud of but unless corruption is tackled effectively, such economic growth does not actually benefit the people at large. Reforms are no easy task and things will take time. But time tends to fly pretty fast on the watches of those who have so long hoped for a more transparent and less corrupt country.

Preap Kol is the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting