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What does corruption in Cambodia look like?

Education, poverty and development – these were the recurring themes among the top entries received in a Cambodia-wide competition that invited photographers to illustrate how corruption negatively affects their world.

From photographs of citizens living in poverty to poorly regulated industrial development, the entries to Transparency International Cambodia’s competition show the range of ways corruption is directly affecting people in the country, which was ranked 160 out of 177 countries in our Corruption Perceptions Index 2013.

The winning entry will be used on the cover of our Cambodian chapter’s upcoming report on the country’s corruption risks, and submissions have been exhibited in the capital city, Phnom Penh.

Here is a selection of some of the images:

  • Winning entry – I want to be one of them: Primary education in Cambodia is supposed to be free for all children. Yet teachers often subsidise their meagre wages through unofficial payments. The impact of this kind of corruption trickles down through society, hurting everyone along the way.

    Image: Phim Kanika
  • First runner-up – Public road for private business: Private parking spreads onto the public road, making it difficult for traffic to pass by. Informal fees of up to 300 per cent higher than the official parking fee are reportedly being charged.

    Image: Sun Vanndy
  • Second runner-up: Ponds and lakes have been filled in with sand to build modern housing complexes without adequate impact assessments being done first. Now, when it rains, surrounding villages are flooded because there is nowhere for rainwater to go.

    Image: Seang Muoylay
  • Poverty and corruption go hand-in-hand. Corruption diverts funding intended for development and undercuts a government's ability to provide basic services. In Cambodia, corruption causes and exacerbates poverty in the country.

    Image: Toni Marie Despojo-Dumler
  • The iconic ‘White Building’ in Tonle Bassac neighbourhood, built in the 1960s, continues to house low-income residents. This building in the heart of rapidly developing Phnom Penh underscores growing inequality, which is worsened by corruption.

    Image: Soeurn Sayorn Sonya
  • Young worker: Some teachers demand unofficial fees from school children for classes that should otherwise be free. Failing to pay might mean dropping out of school and instead having to work hard to support their families.

    Image: Sun Vanndy
  • Dredging damages roads and infrastructure, yet many companies are profiting from it. People are desperate for an intervention, but the apparent collusion between authorities and companies means that the practice continues.

    Image: Oeun Rosnovomren
  • Money can buy a licence, but not a life. A driver’s licence here costs US$100 and can be obtained illegally. This collusion between traffic officials and unlicensed drivers contributes to fatal road accidents on a daily basis.

    Image: Eng Vannak
  • School books intended for the classroom don’t always arrive because officials responsible for distributing them sometimes sell them instead. Corruption is undermining the education of the youth of Cambodia.

    Image: Pech Ouksaphea
  • This boy should be in school, but is instead forced to work because of poverty and lack of access to free education. Corruption drives inequality, sabotages opportunity and damages the lives of Cambodian people.

    Image: Arvin Mamhot
  • Cambodia is affected by the virus of injustice. It is a barrier to sustainable growth. This image seeks to remind all relevant individuals and institutions that justice cannot be bought – everyone has equal rights.

    Image: OUM Nhean Piseth
  • Who would want to put money into a torn pocket? A country with high levels of corruption struggles to attract investment. Corruption negatively impacts Cambodia by holding back its economy and crippling development.

    Image: Sunthearak Trodim

The winning entry was taken by Phim Kanika, 24, whose iPhone photo shows the trickle-down effect of corruption on education. It shows a young boy peering into a classroom in a primary school. Kanika said it illustrates how children miss out on education when corruption stands in their way. Speaking about the unofficial “fees” demanded by some teachers to supplement meagre wages, she told The Phnom Penh Post, “The schools, they say they are free of charge, but in reality they are not.”

Runner-up Sun Vanndy captures petty corruption in Phnom Penh. When transport authorities do not take action, the public road turns into a site for private business. According to Vanndy, it’s not enough that private parking is congesting the public road around Orussey Market, informal fees of up to 300 per cent of official parking fees are being charged.

Second runner-up Seang Muoylay shows the impact of inadequate regulation on the part of authorities in their development programmes. Poor sewage systems have not kept up with the construction of modern housing complexes, meaning this village floods every time it rains. As a result, a little girl has to wade through a flood simply to get home after school.


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