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Donors Still Push for Corruption Law

A donor community that has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the Cambodian government is now showing a strong demand for the passage of anti-corruption legislation, which initially was drafted more than seven years ago.

Central to a counter-corruption law is the country’s penal code, which must be revised first, officials have said. Last month, a government task force review of the country’s penal code was concluded.

The World Bank’s Cambodia office says the bank and other donors recognize the importance of the anti-corruption law and have been pushing for its adoption.

“At the last Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum...I urged the government to submit the anti-corruption law as soon as possible and emphasized that passing the law will be an important signal, providing investors and development partners with confidence to make more long-term commitments in Cambodia,” the World Bank’s country manager for Cambodia, Qimiao Fan, wrote Tuesday in an email to VOA Khmer.

Japan, which pledged US$ 112 million to Cambodia at the last donor meeting, expressed a strong wish to see the passage of the law, despite a mechanism put in place to closely monitor every spending step in its development aid.

“The Japanese Government believes that the anti-corruption law would enhance the rule of law in Cambodia, and continues to support the early passage of the law,” the first secretary of the Japanese Embassy, Yasuhiko Kamada, said in an email response to VOA Khmer.

In a similar tone, the US Embassy emphasized that the law should be a priority for Cambodia.

“The embassy certainly does support and has supported in the past the passing of any corruption bill, and we expect and would hope that it will meet international standards,” John Johnson, US Embassy spokesperson, told VOA Khmer.

The long-awaited anti-corruption bill was sent to the National Assembly once in 2003, but was sent back, and since then the law remains with the executive branch. Officials say the penal code must be revised first, to ensure the two laws are concurrent.

Analysts say the lack of the law means corruption charges go unpunished and are difficult to investigate, such as kickback allegations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, government officials implicated by a Global Witness report on illegal logging, and a corruption case allegedly committed by a prosecutor in Kampong Speu province.

The delay in passage of the law has caused some cancellation of development projects.

“In July 2006, UNDP prepared a multi-donor project designed to support the implementation of the anti-corruption law in Cambodia. Due to the delays in passing the law, the project did not reach approval stage,” UNDP said in an e-mail response to VOA Khmer.

“Addressing the issue of corruption in Cambodia is a high priority for UNDP, as it undermines sustainable development,” UNDP said.

However, some observers do not agree with the approaches adopted by the international community, saying donors have not been effective in pushing for the passage of the law.

Cambodia secured almost $1 billion in pledged aid at the last donor meeting, a boost of more than one-third the $689 million it received the year before.

“At every government-donor meeting, the donors should speak out louder,” Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc and an activist against corruption, told VOA Khmer. “Some of them have tended to get tired after failing to get what they wanted in the first place. They tried to push some laws, such as the anti-corruption law, but later withdrew and stopped completely. This is wrong.”

Cambodia ranks 166 on the 2008 index of Transparency International, the most corrupt country in Asia after Burma.