Jan 3, 2011
Phnom Penh - The Cambodian government kicked off an ambitious asset declaration programme for public officials on Monday in an effort to battle the country's endemic graft.
From January to March, roughly 100,000 officials including the prime minister will be required for the first time to declare assets including property, vehicles and business interests, a process overseen by the country's newly established Anticorruption Unit.
'Every level of government has to report directly to the Anticorruption Unit,' government spokesman Phay Siphan said. 'Their job is to prepare a system of transparency.'
The declaration process has drawn criticism because officials do not have to disclose bank account balances or the assets of spouses and family members. Spouses, in particular, often nominally hold property and other assets acquired in dubious circumstances by government officials, activist groups say.
Sek Borisoth, director of the good governance nongovernmental organisation PACT Cambodia, said staff at the Anticorruption Unit (ACU) would likely be unable to scrutinise closely the many thousands of declarations they will have to process in the coming weeks.
'It's going to be hard, and the ACU also admitted that,' Sek Borisoth said. He added that the declaration process was a good start and could serve as a 'baseline' against which to compare future declarations.
The international corruption watchdog Transparency International identified Cambodia as one of the most corrupt nations in the world last year, ranking the country 154th in its annual governance index. That put Cambodia on a par with countries such as Tajikistan and Guinea-Bissau, with only 15 other nations ranked as more corrupt.
In 2009, the US ambassador to Cambodia said the country loses perhaps 500 million dollars per year to corruption, equivalent to roughly a quarter of the national budget.