Cambodia’s War on Corruption

The Khmer Times, 6 April 2017

Corruption, driven by human nature and greed, is a universal issue. Fighting corruption is an endless process.
Regardless of global and national efforts, corruption remains endemic and has become a cancer in many societies.
A holistic approach is needed, including political will and commitment, effective laws and regulations, effective enforcement, effective adjudication and effective administration and good governance.
In Southeast Asia, corruption is a key constraint to national development and regional integration. Only Singapore has a clean government, which topped Southeast Asia with a score of 84 in the corruption perception index released by Transparency International early this year.
Cambodia was ranked the lowest in Southeast Asia with a score of 21.
In Singapore, there has been zero tolerance and a top-down approach has been implemented to deal with corruption.
The late Lee Kuan Yew once said: “I take pride and satisfaction that the question of my two purchases and those of the Deputy Prime Minister, my son, has been subjected to, and not exempted from, scrutiny. It is most important that Singapore remain a place where no one is above scrutiny, that any question of integrity of a minister, however senior, that he has gained benefits either through influence or corrupt practices, be investigated.”
In his opinion piece published by the Straits Times on May 14, 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long said: “Corruption is a scourge that can never be tolerated. Keeping a system clean must start at the very top.”
Cambodia has taken certain steps to combat corruption through introducing policies, adopting laws and building an anti-corruption institution. However, effective implementation of the policies and law enforcement remain an issue in combating corruption in the kingdom.
In 2003, Cambodia endorsed the ADB/OECD Anti-Corruption Action Plan for Asia and the Pacific with a commitment to “deter, prevent and combat corruption at all levels” and take concrete steps to developing effective and transparent systems for public service, strengthening anti-bribery actions and promoting integrity in business operations and supporting active public involvement.”
In 2006, the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) was established with a mandate to address corruption under three pillars – education, prevention and obstruction. However, the effectiveness and independence of this body have been questioned by some local and international observers.
The report by the Department of Legal, Complaint and International Affairs of the ACU shows there were 2,397 complaints from 2014 to 2016. Within the same period, the department issued 2,321 letters requesting explanations and clarifications from concerned parties and institutions.
In 2010, Cambodia adopted the law on anti-corruption after seven years of consultation. The law aims to “combat corruption through education, prevention and law enforcement with public participation and support and international cooperation.”
In 2014, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated: “To combat corruption, we have to formulate a well and flawless law as well as establish a mechanism to monitor corruption in order to ensure that the enforcement will result in fruitful outcomes through minimizing as much as possible opportunities to engage in corruption, and encouraging public scrutiny especially through media that are professional and highly accountable.”
Multi-stakeholder cooperation and partnerships are required to effectively fight against corruption.  The conference “Fighting Corruption and Building Trust” held in Phnom Penh in 2014 drew a conclusion that “fighting corruption benefits from the collaboration of all sectors of society – the public and private sectors, civil society and media.
“Governments can facilitate this collaboration by establishing policies and a legal framework that promote the contributions of all sectors in preventing as well as addressing corruption.”
Corruption has been and will be one of the core political agendas in the upcoming local and national elections. The political parties must convince the electorates what concrete steps they will take to better deal with corruption.
Cambodian society has become more mature, largely aware of national issues and concerns. Diversity of views and ideas, driven by education and media, is a strength of a democratic society.
Cambodians are looking for a leader who leads by example, not by rhetoric. Actions speak louder than words.
As a small country, Cambodia does not have many choices and options. The choice that Cambodia cannot miss is to choose a leader who can deliver concrete results, build clean and efficient state institutions and bring opportunities and a bright future to the nation.

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