Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Cambodia unveils anti-graft council

via Khmer NZ News Media

Cambodia unveiled the make-up of an anti-corruption body yesterday but critics doubted the effectiveness of an anti-graft panel many of whose members are from the ruling party.

Cambodia invariably appears near the bottom of any list of countries with corruption problems, coming 158th out of 180 in the anti-graft watchdog Transparency International’s 2009 ranking.

Corruption is a major worry for both foreign investors and the aid donors that keep afloat a country still dealing with the legacy of decades of conflict including the communist Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields” rule.

“From now on, the mechanism to fight corruption is created and this event is considered historic for the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Top Sam told a news conference after being elected chairman of the National Council for Anti-Corruption.

Asked how the council could fight corruption when many of its 11 members were from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Top Sam said everyone had to obey the law.

“These are worries among journalists but members of the National Council for Anti-Corruption must act in accordance with the law,” Top Sam said. “Our duty is only to enforce the law.”

Government critics say corruption is often linked to people in government or its agencies.

The council has been set up under an anti-graft law adopted in March amid protests by rights groups and opposition politicians who said it would entrench official corruption.

The National Assembly, dominated by the ruling CPP, voted in favour of the bill despite calls from the United Nations and civil society groups to postpone the vote to allow time for public consultation.

The department within the council that will actually fight corruption is called the Anti-Corruption Unit, and is headed by a veteran adviser to Hun Sen, Om Yentieng.

Om Yentieng told the news conference the unit would be hiring 120 members of staff over the next few months and investigations had already begun into illegal logging and other crimes.

He called on journalists to help uncover graft.

“We believe that it’s 100 percent understood that fighting corruption is difficult,” Om Yentieng said. “The special part is that it’s hard to obtain evidence.”

Yong Kim Eng, a member of the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability alliance of non-government groups, said he did not have great hopes but wanted to reserve judgment.

“We don’t have much hope when they are from the political party,” Yong Kim Eng said. “In a Cambodian case, with a political picture like this, they won’t work seriously according to what people want,” he said, adding: “But we’ll wait and see.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of legal aid group the Cambodian Defenders Project, said he was also reserving judgment while hoping the council would take on high-profile cases, not just small ones. Reuters

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