Anti-Corruption Legislation on the Move

7 April 2011 will be a special date in the history of Cambodia in the fight against corruption: the deadline for submitting asset declarations – and thus establishing reference data when accusations of corruptly gaining wealth are made.

The concern about corruption has a long history in Cambodia, also among the leaders of the government. Some voices from different sources:

  • “Hun Sen vows to quit if illegal logging not stopped.
    Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Friday he will resign from his post and dissolve the government if the authorities fail to combat illegal logging. Hun Sen made the promise at the national workshop on strengthening monitoring and reporting of crimes related to forestry. [17 January 2000]

  • Hun Sen threatens to jail officials in logging scandal. Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened Tuesday to jail government officials allegedly involved in illegal logging in Cambodia’s eastern Mondolkiri Province. “I think administrative measures are not enough, throwing them into jail is better,” Hun Sen told reporters at the inauguration of a national zoo in Tamao, about 40 kilometers south of Phnom Penh. At least 21 government officials have already been suspended for alleged involvement in illegal logging. [25 January 2000]
  • Governance Action Plan – speech by Senior Minister and Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers Sok An, at the international Consultative Group Meeting, 19-21June 2002. “With the formation of the present government in 1998 and building on progress made, attention turned to putting in place necessary conditions for realizing the Government’s political agenda as endorsed by the National Assembly and the Senate. The Government undertook to accelerate Cambodia’s pursuit of good governance by State institutions and to reform these institutions as critical pegs to its strategy. At the Tokyo Consultative Group meeting in 1999… the Royal Government committed to accelerating its quest for good governance and the Rule of Law. Shortly thereafter, the Royal Government commissioned and facilitated studies to gauge the state of governance within State institutions and point to elements of solution to further the cause of good governance…[conducting a] study on governance and corruption… By March 2000, the Royal Government undertook extensive consultations to prepare the first Governance Action Plan (GAP) by way of a national symposium on Democracy, Good Governance and Transparency in the Asian Context. The symposium brought together representatives from all stakeholders to discuss and suggest priority actions to enhance governance in Cambodia.”
  • A document prepared for USAID/Cambodia on Cambodian Corruption Assessment said in 2004: “…Hun Sen pledged to donors that the Anti-Corruption Law would be passed in June 2003, but this failed due to the absence of a quorum of MPs, set at the extraordinarily high level of seven-eighths of the Assembly’s membership. Since then, passing legislation has been impossible, due to ongoing negotiations about forming a new government.”
  • Cambodia PM vows sweeping reforms [11 February 2005]. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised sweeping changes to the country’s public services. Speaking at an international forum in Phnom Penh, he said civil service wages would be improved to attract skilled staff and reduce corruption. Hun Sen tore into a list of what he called concrete measures to streamline Cambodia’s bureaucracy and reduce corruption. He said government agencies that imposed high costs and delays on the private sector would be rationalized and the paperwork for businesses cut back… The president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, said earlier Cambodia was facing three major challenges: corruption, corruption, and corruption.
  • Deputy Prime Minister Sok An : The Government Commits to Fight Graft Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Dr. Sok An told a South Korean delegation on 22 June 2010 that the Cambodian government is strongly committed to fight corruption, a move aimed at improving transparency and accountability for contributing to the country’s development.

After several years of planning, and a process of critical discussions during this long period of time, an anti-corruption law was adopted by the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia on 11 March 2010 with 82 votes in favor from the 82 voters present.

The law, finally passed, was greeted with high expectations:

“Prime Minister Hun Sen enthusiastically stated that the government will be able to eliminate corruption by using the anti-corruption law. He said that now, the government has enough legal mechanisms to bring corrupt officials to court to be punished, and most officials who do not commit corruption at each institution, ministry, and department will report the persons that commit corruption to the Anti-Corruption Unit.

“Mr. Hun Sen added that he trusts the fight against corruption will work, because at each unit, among 100 officials there might be only two or three who commit corruption, and there are many other non-corrupt officials who will report to the Anti-Corruption Unit. They will join to eradicate corruption, since it siphons off also the interest of the units.” [Khmer Amatak, Vol.4, #776, 7.6.2010]

Even in January 2011, there was still talk of 100,000 declarations, and the process was described to be simple:

“’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.”

The Prime Minister submitted his declaration on 1 April 2011, but it is difficult to see how the deadline set for 7 April 2011 can be fulfilled. When the Prime Minister submitted his declaration of assets, the Anti-Corruption Unit announced that only 11,320 persons had already submitted their declarations. That leaves just one week for the rest. How many persons will have to go to the offices during these days?

That depends on which total figure is to be considered.

On 15.7.2010, The Mirror had carried a translation from Kampuchea Thmey, reporting:

“The head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, Senior Minister Om Yentieng, said during a press conference in the morning of 14 July 2010 that the Anti-Corruption Unit will proceed with the procedure of the declaration of assets of relevant officials, including officials of the Royal Government appointed by sub-decrees and royal decrees, as well as other officials including those of civil society organizations, and the declaration will be conducted before November 2010, to facilitate a quick enforcement of the law. He added that there are about 100,000 persons in Cambodia who are required to declare their assets.

The head of the Anti-Corruption Unit stated during the press conference that the Anti-Corruption Unit has a fivefold mission:

  • Lead the fight against any acts of corruption.
  • Fight against corruption of all forms, in all sectors, and at all levels.
  • Proceed following three legal procedures: to educate, to prevent, and to punish.
  • Fight corruption with participation by the general public.
  • Fight corruption with participation by international agencies.”

In the meantime, the numbers were drastically reduced to one quarter of the 100,000: last Friday it was announced that only a total of 24,854 government officials would have to submit their declarations, and 11,320 had done so. That still left more than 13,000 do bring their papers – assuming that the Anti-Corruption offices would also operate over the weekend, that would leave more than 2,000 declaration for every of the six day from Saturday, 2 April to Thursday, 7 April 2011. But still: “On Friday, the Premier appealed to other senior officials to declare their assets to the ACU before the 7 April deadline.”

All this happens at a the same time when an attempt is made in India to enact a different anti-corruption law, different from the one proposed by the Indian government. Kisan Baburao Hazare, popularly known as Anna Hazare (born in 1937), had been active in the Indian Army for 15 years before he changed, to dedicate his life as a social activist. For some years he was known as a right-to-information crusader. In 2005, there was new legislation, where Information and Communication Technology and freedom of expression and the right to access to information were laid out:

“From 12 October 2005, the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), 2005 became fully operational across India. The Act provides people in India the right to access government-held information and requires systems to be set up for ensuring transparent and accountable government. The Act covers ‘public authorities’ at the national, state and local levels – duty holders who have obligations to deal with citizens’ information needs… The purpose of the Act is to create an informed citizenry capable of participating in the decision-making processes of government at all levels.

A concomitant objective of this law is to empower people to hold government and its instrumentalities accountable to their decisions and actions. Participation in the absence of information about the policies, programs and processes of decision making is next to the impossible. In this context, the right to information becomes a key tool for ensuring that public authorities more effectively meet their goal of promoting participation and entrenching accountable government at the grassroots level.”

His present efforts, supported by thousands of people in many cities of India, to have government legislation on an anti-corruption law, under discussion for years, reconsidered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, were rejected. They demanded that corruption investigations should not be allowed to drag on for more than one year without finding and publicly announcing their finding, the anti-corruption offices should be headed by persons independent of government control in order to check corruption in public life, and they demanded the “formation of a joint committee, with half the members from the civil society” to formulate new draft legislation, said a leader of the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign.

He is not only supported by large people’s movements, but also be several remarkable personalities.

  • One is a the religious teacher Swami Agnivesh, who is known for having “been consistently doing battles on behalf of the poor, the weak and the defenseless of India. Agnivesh’s campaigns have led him to fight alcoholism, female foeticide, bonded labor, child labor as well as struggle for the emancipation of women.”
  • Another well known person is Dr. Kiran Bedi, “India’s first and highest ranking (retired in 2007) woman officer who joined the Indian Police Service in 1972. Her experience and expertise include more than 35 years of tough, innovative and welfare policing.” She has worked with the United Nations as the Police Adviser to the Secretary General, in the Department of Peace Keeping Operations. She has represented India at the United Nations, and in International forums on crime prevention, drug abuse, police and prison reforms and women’s issues. Most recently, she had held the post of Director General, of the Bureau of Police Research and Development at the Ministry of Home Affairs of India.
  • Coming with the background of a doctorate in engineering from a US university, Sandeep Pandey is concerned with education: “education should lead to self-reliance and values for a just society… [it is not] easy to reconcile these goals with those of the conventional education system, which trains people for largely non-existent jobs, and aims to bring out competitiveness in people” instead of a spirit of cooperation.

After the prime minister had rejected their appeal for reconsideration, Anna Hazare declared today – on 5 April 2011 – “to begin a fast-unto-death to press for a comprehensive anti-corruption bill. – I will observe fast-unto-death till the government agrees to form a joint committee comprising 50 per cent officials and the remaining citizens and intellectuals to draft the [Jan Lokpal] Bill.”

The BJP party, in the meantime, joined the call to the government to incorporate necessary changes, and “not to make it a prestige issue.” Hazare is reported to have said that “fake assurances will not be accepted.”

I will try to continue observing the further developments in Cambodia and in India related to the respective anti-corruption legislations and their implementation.

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