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Some Progress, But Ingrained Corruption Remains

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

One year into the implementation of the anti-corruption law, Cambodia has made a number of high-profile arrests. And while officials say they are working to stamp out the country’s widespread graft, critics say they are not doing enough.

Keo Remy, spokesman of the National Council for Combating Corruption, told “Hello VOA” on Monday that government officials must stop corrupt practices or face the consequences.

“I would like to appeal to those who are crooked to stop immediately, otherwise you will be prosecuted,” he said. “Once you are convicted of corruption, the reputation is not good. It has a negative impact on the whole family. Therefore, you have to think twice before doing it.”

Keo Remy said raising awareness among government officials and requiring them to declare their assets are part of the anti-corruption body’s campaign to clear Cambodia off its bad reputation for corruption.

The Anti-Corruption Unit, which is the executive branch of the National Council for Combating Corruption, has arrested a powerful court prosecutor in Pursat province, a police chief from Banteay Meanchey province and the director of anti-narcotics authority in recent months.

Tax collection officials have been put on administrative discipline after complaints from local non-governmental organizations they were charging too much for vehicle taxes.

The anti-corruption measures stem from the passage of an anti-corruption law a year ago, and observers say progress has been made.

“I am surprised that the law has only been recently passed, but the activities have been enormous in both prosecuting and educating government officials,” said Chea Vannath, an independent analyst and former president of the Center for Social Development.

If investigations and arrests continue at the same pace, national corruption will be reduced, she said. She encouraged the government to focus more on preventative measures.

Members of the opposition, meanwhile, say the anti-corruption campaign can widen its scope to higher-ranking officials who are a part of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“We cannot assess their work now,” said Kem Sokha, president of Human Rights Party. “Sometimes they only take people away just to show that the government is serious on combating corruption, but there are more at the top that we have to sweep clean.”

Kem Sokha said corrupt officials hold rank as high as deputy prime minister.

“These people have gigantic wealth, but there has yet to be an investigation into their corruption,” he said.

Mam Sitha, president of the Cambodian Independence Anti-Corruption Committee, said that the work of the anti-corruption bodies has not been enough to tackle the broad scope of corruption in Cambodia.

“The corruption here is so widespread and systematic,” she said.

Keo Remy acknowledged this and said the government is moving to get rid of bad officials.

“With corruption so widespread throughout the country, that’s why the government has set up an institution this big to combat it,” he said.

Keo Remy encouraged the public to file complaints to the anti-corruption body and assured them that their identities would be protected.

“We are required by law to properly protect whistleblowers, and we can be punished if we fail to do so,” he said.