Why are international indices often flatly rejected in Cambodia?

The World Justice Project published its Rule Of Law Index in early June 2011 – placing Cambodia towards the end in this 66 countries observations on governments and the rule of law. One comment says aboout the Asia-Pacific region:

“New Zealand got the highest marks in Asia, followed by Japan. The lowest scores were in Cambodia and Pakistan, which ranked at the bottom on nearly every measure.”

Cambodia was ranked last for abence of effective regulatory enforcement and absence of easy access to civil justice, for corruption, and because of weak property rights.

And a report about the Global Competitiveness Index says:

For the fourth year running, Cambodia has remained virtually static in a global ranking of competitiveness… Of 139 countries ranked based on factors ranging from human resources to legal institutions to technology, Cambodia ranked 109… The report also surveys local business executives to evaluate challenges to conducting business. Corruption ranks highest in a listing of “most problematic factors for doing business,” with 21.5 percent of respondents selecting it as number one. Inefficient bureaucracy and an insufficiently trained workforce are fingered as the second and third largest obstacles. Chheng Kimlong, an economist at the University of Cambodia, said yesterday that the government needed to focus on cutting red tape, creating more incentives for business registration and cracking down on under-the-table payments. [Cambodia Daily – 17.6.2011]

Whenever such global indexes are published – like the Corruption Perceptions Index, or the World Development Indicators – there are almost regularly negative reactions from Cambodian authorities. So also this time.

An officer of the Anti-Corruption Unit refuted the Cambodia related Rule Of Law Index because there was no reference to the work of this institution: “This group has no idea what we are doing. Some people just see the rich and assume that the rich are corrupt.”
A secretary of state of the Ministry of Justice called the Cambodia ranking “baseless.” – “They just heard certain information and wrote the report” without talking to a minister or related officials. [Cambodia Daily – 15.6.2011]

Such indices are compiled on the basis of specific sets of data, and the methods how they are applied and compiled, for all countries covered, are available to the interested public. I do not remember to have ever seen an analytical critical discussion related to the data sets used, when Cambodian institutions or their representatives deliver their negative reactions.

Such indices are prepared according to data where the inputs from many different countries are compared – they do not single out individual countries in their analyzes. And many governments and business associations are eager to study the results in order to find opportunities to improve their own performance.

How can such usually flat rejections of international indices be maintained in view of what else is reported in the media? Just to cite some recent examples:

  • “4 Yeaars On, Land Case Again Without a Judge” – “More than four years after a complaint was filed, Ratanakiri Provincial Court has yet to complete an investigation of a 450-hectare land dispute between 50 ethnic Jarai families in O’Yadaw district and Keat Kolny, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.” [Cambodia Daily – 9.6.2011]
  • “Social Affairs Ministry Reveals Graft” – on 5 July 2011 the Finance Minister Keat Chon wrote to the Social Affairs Minister, “I would like to inform Your Excellency that by the cooperation among officials at 24 provincial departments of social affairs, veteran and youth rehabilitatin, the Anti-Corruption Unit has uncovered suspicions… and irregularities totalling about US$5.48 million. Some of the funds had been spent illegally on non-existing beheficiaries, and others funds were knowingly overstated. [Source: Cambodia Daily – 15.7.2011] – “Yi Yaun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, declined to comment and referred questions to ministry spokesperson Lim El Djurando who could not be reached.” [Cambodia Daily – 16/17.7.2011] – Officials responsible for embezzling more than $5 million will likely not face immediate prosecution but will be required to undergo ‘educational measures,’ Finance Minister Keat Chhon said yesterday… ‘This is the forgiveness of the government under the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen,’ said Mr. Cheam Yeap. [Source: Cambodia Daily – 19.7.2011]
  • “Alleged Gunshots Over Late Food Order Result in No Charges” – “A group including the son of a high-ranking official was releassed wihout charge by military police on Monday night after one of them allegedly fired a handgun into the air because his food order took too long… Three tuk-tuk drivers at the scene… said the man got into a black Range Rover and drove away… A Phnom Penh military police officer [stopped] the vehicle in front of Olympic Stadion at about 11 p.m… After members of the group made some phone calls, he added, a military police comander called him to order their immediate release… Phnom Penh deputy military police chief Pong Savrith said he had heard about the shooting… National Police Chief General Sao Sokha and Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naruth said they were not aware of the incident.” [Cambodia Daily – 13.7.2011]
  • “Government Withholds IMF Report” – “Despite recommendations by the Internatinal Monetary Fund to do so, the government has not publicly released a comprehensive analysis of the country’s financial system completed last year by the IMF and the World Bank… [The analysis] also highlights risks and vulnerabilities in financial markets… Hang Chuon Naron, secretary of state at the Ministy of Finance, said he was unsure who would be responsible for the release of the report, but he denied it was his ministry… Bankers said that Cambodia’s financial sector would benefit from the report’s release. ‘In the interest of transparency, it would be good for it to come out… In other countries, it has been a very useful document that presents an understanding of where the financial sector is at.’ [Cambodia Daily – 19.7.2011]

Is it a surprise that the Rule Of Law Index places Cambodia fairly low? And is it really a surprise – given the reported realities – that a secretary of state of the Ministry of Justice called the Cambodia ranking “baseless”? Based on what criteria, and on whose interests?

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