Greed and uncontrolled materialism are the root causes of Cambodia’s contemporary culture of corruption, and any long-term effort to fight corruption will need to address these, an anti-corruption expert says.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, told “Hello VOA” last week that the causes are so endemic that Cambodia’s corruption culture could be called a “disease.”
“We can say that the biggest factor is people’s greed,” he said. Corruption has always existed in Cambodia, but during the Sangkum period in the pre-war 1950s and 1960s, there was less materialism and people adhered more to Buddhist principles, he said.
Last year, Transparency International ranked Cambodia 154th out of 174 countries on its corruption index. Preap Kol says that while materialism in developed countries does not necessarily breed corruption, it is ill suited for a developing country like Cambodia, as it can become a major motivation for corruption.
“Nowadays there are a lot of modern imported products that make people want them. When people don’t have money to buy them, they will use a shortcut, that is, cheating, embezzlement, taking bribes, or resorting to injustice, or any means, so they can get the things they strongly desire.”
Corruption can be tackled through education and the reinforcement of Buddhist values, particularly against greed, one of the “three poisons” Buddhists are to avoid, he said.
Preap Kol acknowledged that anti-corruption efforts in recent years have paid off, especially in some administrative procedures, such as getting ID cards. The creation of a government’s Anti-Corruption Unit in 2010 has also helped boost the effort.
Hak, a caller from Banteay Meanchey province, asked if the Anti-Corruption Unit would be effective in reversing the “corruption culture.”
Preap Kol says the anti-corruption body is an unprecedented institution and, as such, needs to focus on more than just tackling an environment that favors corruption and focus on changing attitudes.
“[The ACU] is a major player in anti-corruption efforts,” he said. “It should be tasked with all three responsibilities: punishment, prevention, as well as education, to change people’s mindset.”
But he says ultimately anti-corruption is a social effort, requiring all of society to take part. “We cannot just rely on the one institution. We all have to take part in fighting corruption.”