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Patience Wears Thin on Corruption Law

More than ten years have passed since officials and the donor community recommended that an anti-corruption law be put in place, and despite the recognition of its importance, the long-awaited law is still not out.

The draft anti-corruption law is still moving back and forth between the administration and the National Assembly, without a definite finish date.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha recalls the process of making a law that was started in 1994 to look at different aspects of fighting corruption.

The drafting originally looked at two aspects of the law, he said, one focusing on curbing corruption and the other on revealing personal assets. He said it is time the law is passed.

“Starting from 1994 till now it seems too long,” he said.

Tired of waiting, some officials point to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration and his Cambodian People’s Party for unwillingness to pass the law.

Yim Sovann, a National Assembly lawmaker from the Sam Rainsy Party and former chairman of the Assembly’s anti-corruption committee, expressed little expectation the law would be passed in the near future.

“The anti-corruption law that Cambodia and the international community have been waiting on for a long time is still in the hands of the Cambodian People’s Party and the government, and I don’t expect the law will be out too soon,” he said. “The government leadership, dominated by the CPP, has not enough political will and commitment to release the law.”

The anti-corruption law has been an effective promise touted by the government to secure assistance at every annual donor meeting in the past, even though it has failed to materialize.

“From one year to another the promise was the same,” said Chea Vannath, an independent analyst and former head of the Center for Social Development. “It was only later that the government said Cambodia needs to finish the penal code first, before working on the anti-corruption law.”

Cambodia ranks 166 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2008 corruption perceptions index, one place above Burma in Southeast Asia. The country’s trend in fighting corruption has worsened in the past few years; it ranked 151 in 2006.

A senior CPP lawmaker, Cheam Yiep, admitted that the process has taken a long time, but he cited other factors outside the CPP or government.

“There is also some reluctance among other organizations…involved in drafting the law,” he said, citing the UNDP, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and other organizations.

Cheam Yiep said he hoped the law would pass within this mandate of the government, which ends in elections in 2013. The law requires a review of the penal code, he said, which is being looked at by the Council of Ministers.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said the council’s legal team has finished reviewing the penal law and is awaiting government approval before sending it to the National Assembly.

A draft of the anti-corruption law did reach the floor of the National Assembly, in 2003, but it was soon sent back to the executive branch, controlled by Hun Sen, for further review. The administration has since said the law must clarify the term “corruption.”