WASHINGTON DC - Cambodia is ranked one of the 20 most corrupt countries in the world, and on the streets of Phnom Penh, citizens say they can believe it.
But corruption in Cambodia, recently ranked as some of the worst in Asia by US-based Transparency International, has effects well beyond everyday citizens. It can also effect the economic development of the country, investors say.
From extralegal traffic tickets, to extensive fees for marriage licenses or birth certificates, to bribes to teachers, citizens often pay higher prices, in an informal subsidy for public officials.
“My friends who are mototaxi drivers and I have experienced this problem many times,” Chum Van, a motorcycle taxi driver in Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer recently. “The traffic police sometimes demand that we pay as much as 30,000 to 40,000 riel,” he said, the equivalent of $8 to $10.
Corruption also hurts the country’s economy, as investors shy away from the “informal” fees they are required to pay if they want to do business in Cambodia.
“For the most part American companies are excited about Cambodia,” Alexander Feldman, president of the US-Asean Business Council, told VOA Khmer. “But there are a number of concerns. And one of them is corruption. Unfortunately one company that was looking to invest on our most recent trade mission decided not to, because it had actually had first-hand experience with corruption on that mission. So there is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
Cambodian officials say they are trying to curb the practice, which has become endemic across the country.
“We now have a system where we agree with the Anti-Corruption Unit, that you can officially charge a small amount of money” to companies, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh told VOA Khmer in a recent interview. “So what used to be ‘under the table’ is now official. So the American companies won’t have a problem. American companies can pay, but they cannot pay without a proper receipt.”
However, Pa Nguon Teang, president of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, while acknowledging that some efforts have been made, said the government is not doing enough to tackle a systemic problem.
Anti-corruption moves made by the government so far have only focused on rival factions within the administration, he said. “Meaning that if you are corrupt, but belong to their group, then it’s OK,” he said. “But if you belong to another group, they will arrest you.”