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Officials Begin Asset Declaration to Counter Corruption

Cambodia is ranked No. 154 of 178 countries for corruption by Transparency International.

More than 100,000 government officials have begun the task of asset declaration, a secret process required by the new anti-corruption law aimed at helping in investigations.

Government ministry officials have until March to add up their worth and send it to anti-corruption authorities, as the country tries to tackle a deeply ingrained culture of graft.

“The asset declaration is a legal measure to prevent corruption,” said Keo Remy, spokesman for the National Anti-Corruption Council, which, along with the separate Anti-Corruption Unit, was formed by the new law as well. “The asset declaration is made in secret, a first and historic condition to safeguard each official’s physical and mental safety, and particularly the country’s political stability.”

Officials from the rank of undersecretary and chief of department up are to fill in declaration forms, which include property listings, to make future auditing for corrupt practices easier.

Nov Sowatharo, secretary of state for the Ministry of Information, said the process was not complicated. It required filling out two sets of forms and putting them into two envelops.

“We filled out the form secretly,” he said. “After closing the envelops, we give it to the ministry's agent, who submits ministry officials' declarations to the Anti-Corruption Unit.”

The ACU then takes the envelops, stamps them with a seal and returns one copy to the owner.

Sean Borath, deputy chief of the ACU, said no one has the authority to open the envelops, unless an official is suspected of corruption. The sealed declaration then becomes part of an investigation and is opened.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said the secret nature of the declarations means less transparency and the potential for abuse. “I believe that a secret asset declaration has little effectiveness,” he said.

Keo Remy said secret asset declaration was built into the law, which passed last year after decades of drafts and delays. The law provides punishment of up to 15 years in jail for the worst offenses.

Supporters of the law say it will help improve Cambodia's poor corruption record. The country is ranked No. 154 of 178 countries for corruption by Transparency International.