Monday, 18 May 2009

Fighting Corruption – Seriously and Legally – Sunday, 17.5.2009

Posted on 18 May 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 612

The long standing controversy about corruption allegations at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – the allegation that some Cambodian citizens, working at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, paid kickbacks from their salaries to get such employment – did not yet find a solution.

The U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, who is in charge of UN relations with the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Mr. Peter Taksøe-Jensen, left Cambodia in April again in frustration – not for the first time – leaving the following note:

“The United Nations continues to believe that for the ethics monitoring system to be credible, the staff should have the freedom to approach the ethics monitor of their own choice and put forward complaints without fear of retaliation. Such freedom of choice is an important element of a trustworthy ethics-monitoring system.”

There is probably full mutual agreement that “ trustworthy ethics-monitoring systems” are important to prevent corruption at the court. No agreement exists obviously about the question how to implement procedures to do such monitoring, and how to deal with the information – if any – which such monitoring may produce.

The antagonism reached, however, a new stage with an allegation reported by the Phnom Penh Post on 14 May 2009:

“Apparently… the Cambodian government claims it is keeping files on international staffers to prevent corruption at the court.

Lawyers and court observers told the Post the Cambodian government’s behavior amounted to interference and intimidation. A couple of the most compelling reactions:

Defense consultant Andrew Ianuzzi: ‘This is childish, thuggish behavior we have come to expect from the government. But it is not something to be taken lightly.’

Court Monitor Michelle Staggs-Kelsall: ‘Without sounding alarmist, this is alarming. … There is obviously a complete breakdown of trust between the two sides of the court.’”

While there is no clarity about the corruption allegation at the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the Cambodian government is now reported to have started to monitor the international staff in order to prevent corruption.

At the time of this writing, I am neither aware what kind of corruption is suspected, nor, in which way such information is collected.

Does Article 40 of the Constitution apply, which says among other things:

The rights to privacy of residence, and to the secrecy of correspondence by mail, telegram, fax, telex and telephone shall be guaranteed.

In 1993, when the Constitution was created, the Internet had not yet arrived in Cambodia – therefore it may be a question for experts on constitutional law to clarify whether the term “correspondence by mail” covers also correspondence by e-mail.

When we deal in the Mirror with reports about corruption in Cambodia, this is a good reminder that corruption is a phenomenon in many other countries also. And it is an opportunity to consider how corruption is dealt with there.

In the United Kingdom, there is at present almost every day a new media revelation about some members of parliament, or some members of government, who have generously used, or misused, financial arrangements, turning them into a self-service mechanism: collecting public funds for private expenses: having their private garden fertilized with manure, claiming public support for living in two different places, collecting money for having the house cleaned or equipped with expensive furniture – and many more.

All these problems started with a foreign journalist, living and working in London, trying to get information on expenses paid by public funds to be made known to the public. She had requested such information in October 2008, but instead of acting in a similar way as the “Freedom of Information Act” would operate in the USA, such information was denied. “The continued exclusion of the public has made the public very, very interested in this material” – says one commentator. Finally, the Daily Telegraph published details of dubious expenses over the period of one week – starting with the prime minister who had provided payments from public resources to a family member – involving every day some more persons.

By now, also the High Court stated: “We are not here dealing with idle gossip… the expenditure of public money is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers.”

Most criticism is now focused on the Speaker of Parliament (who is also alleged to have benefited financially) because he seems to be more interested to start a police investigation about who leaked the information to the media, instead of punishing those who have done wrong.

Several people – including the prime minister – have paid back public funds received; some others have resigned.

In Germany, a different clean-up is going on during these days. German Railways is, with almost 250,000 employees, the biggest single employer in the country. And in a big company there is also the danger that big irregularities may happen; therefore the management started – it sounds similar to the recent report from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – to collect data on employees and save them in special files: in order to prevent corruption.

But in actual fact, the system which was created to prevent corruption was turned into an elaborate network to spy on employees: not only e-mail of hundreds of staff members was searched, violating their right to the secrecy of correspondence, hard-disks were were removed to be searched without informing the staff, and there is now the allegation that such secret violation of the confidentiality of communication was also used to identify staff members who did not agree with the long range goal of the top management to privatize this public enterprise.

The director general of German Railways has to leave his position, and also a number of other members of the board of directors: they are being dismissed in spite of the fact that some of them can claim not to have know what kind of illegalities went on. They are dismissed, because they were negligent and did not care enough to be sufficiently informed and to take responsibility for their neglect of oversight. Some of them will probably also face criminal charges.

What is remarkable – and this is lifted up in the media – is the fact that not only persons in subordinate positions are called to order, but that a considerable number of the top management is fired. Only this is considered to make a new start possible.

Two former top managers of German Telekom are also facing criminal investigation: they arranged to secretly monitor the mobile phone communication of another member of the board of directors: they suspected that he shared internal information with the press.

Fighting corruption is important. But doing it by violating the law obviously is not acceptable.

Please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

No comments: