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Government by the people?

Reports by most organisations have identified corruption as the main cause for social and economic inequalities, in turn destroying what little hope the poor used to have.
Reports by most organisations have identified corruption as the main cause for social and economic inequalities, in turn destroying what little hope the poor used to have. Hong Menea

Government by the people?

Some people believe the world will end in the near future and nothing will be able to stop it. I wondered if they were referring to the growing damage global warming has caused, or if the nuclear arms race will be the cause. Or, will it be due to some strange disease that would kill at an unprecedented speed? No, none of the above.

What else could it be? Truly, I couldn’t seem to find an answer and went to bed. But just then a strange voice passed through my head; indeed, a revelation. A revelation so unusual but yet so obvious if we just take a moment to think, a moment to meditate.

Man cannot live on bread alone, Jesus warned. Buddha also taught followers to seek not material posessions but the ultimate noble peace of mind and happiness through honest and fine deeds.

Although I am not a priest or a monk, I could easily find resonance in these two great philosophies as many people before me have found.

Seeking materialism – or bread alone – has corrupted the minds and souls of so many people. And the consequences have been particularly deplorable when corruption has occurred within the top ranks of the state machinery.

Apparently unsatisfied with the current mechanism, the prime minister has just called upon responsible citizens to send him any credible charges of corruption.

Internationally, reports by most global organisations have consistently identified corruption as the main cause for social and economic inequalities, which, in turn, have destroyed whatever little hope the poor used to hold dear to their hearts, believing that their leaders would one day do the right thing.

But that, unfortunately, has not happened and corruption has become so rampant that nobody would need hard evidence anymore.

In a global attempt to name and shame corrupt officials, the international anti-corruption movement has decided to start a worldwide campaign called “Unmask the Corrupt”.

This campaign defines “grand corruption” as “the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and causes serious and widespread harm to individuals and society”.

To date, this innovative online platform has reached more than 34 million people. Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president, has been anonymously voted by people from around the world as the most corrupt person, followed by Ricardo Martinelli, the former president of Panama.

Both individuals have allegedly been charged with embezzlement, with amounts totalling over $100 million.

The campaign is divided into three phases – Nominate, Vote, and Time for Justice. The time for justice is scheduled to occur soon after people are invited to submit their proposals on how to bring the vulnerable winners to global attention.

Such a people-driven campaign sounds perfect for Cambodia in this day and age, as it is somehow becoming the most effective tool of governing.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has built a good reputation by giving his services to the people by listening to their concerns directly online, instead of relying on somewhat misleading reports from some of his subordinates.

Agree or disagree with his personal approach of directly getting in touch with people, many join hands in praising him for increasingly showing a keen interest in social issues and for taking measures to deal with the various hardships that ordinary folks have had to face for far too long.

Among the many abuses of power we all know, bribery by public officials – regardless of their political affiliation – is the single biggest problem that poor people, who make the largest voting electorate, want to see eliminated.

Although the Unmask the Corrupt campaign no longer accepts nominations, Cambodian people may want to warm up for the next round by starting to complain about flagrant corruption through the prime minister’s Facebook page.

When formal institutions cannot do their job properly, the people will do the job for them and hold them to account on the day they cast their ballots. But nobody should have to wait until then to show their disappointment.

The strength of governing, let’s remember, must be put to the test on a consistent basis throughout each term. If illegal public service fees could be removed by the prime minister in the stroke of a Facebook post, his fans would have reasons to rejoice, as he might then do likewise to corrupt officials.

If he keeps firing corrupt officials from the top down, if he keeps listening to people’s opinions as he has, if he is truly genuine about his deep reform agenda, his fans won’t be unreasonable when the election day arrives.

As Cambodia is arguably moving on its path towards becoming a middle-income country, leaders must acknowledge an inconvenient truth: Cambodian people can’t live on bread alone.

The people will come knocking on their doors demanding an equitable government. And contrary to belief, the world will not end when so much unfinished business still remains the way it is.

Preap Kol is executive director of Transparency International.

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