Today Transparency International Cambodia (TI Cambodia) releases its major report on corruption in Cambodia, the National Integrity System Assessment 2014. Culminating two years of work, the report provides a comprehensive assessment of the situation of Cambodia’s governance system. It evaluates 13 ‘pillars’ - from the Judiciary to the Anti-Corruption Unit to civil society and the business sector - considered crucial for a strong integrity system. A well-functioning integrity system safeguards against corruption and abuse of power.
The report finds some encouraging strengths in a number of areas, but on the whole Cambodia’s integrity system is found to be weak. While the overall legal framework is found to be relatively robust, safeguarding independence and accountability of institutions, this seldom translates into practice. The integrity system still requires a lot of improvement in order to uphold the rule of law, ensure sustainable development and a good quality of life for the population at large.
The Judiciary and the law enforcement agencies emerge as the two weakest pillars. Both are politicised and highly susceptible to bribery and outside influence, and professionalism and independence of the two sectors could be improved. As a result, well-connected individuals are often allowed to go unpunished while cases of politically-motivated prosecutions are reported. The three judicial reform laws that were passed in May 2014 – namely the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Courts, the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors and the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy – do not rectify the weaknesses of the system as they fail to ensure real independence of the judiciary.
Petty corruption remains commonplace across both the private and public sectors, leading to situations where those who can afford to pay more receive preferential treatment, exacerbating inequality and injustice.
Cutting across all institutions, a significant gap exists between law and practice, weakening the entire integrity system. Concerns over the lack of independence, in particular, extends across all pillars, with power being highly centralised within the patronage network of the power holders.
The report also highlights some positive aspects. With the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law and the creation of the Anti-Corruption Unit in 2010, followed by the establishment of the parliamentary Anti-Corruption Commission in 2014, at present Cambodia has the most encouraging and open environment for anti-corruption efforts in its recent history.
Civil society, the Executive and political parties, are three relatively strong sectors. Generally well-funded and bolstered by on-going foreign assistance, civil society is becoming more effective in holding the government accountable for its actions. The Executive and political parties are supported by strong legal frameworks that seek to ensure adequate resources, independence and the ethical behaviour of their members. The Executive also has prioritised reforms to push for a well governed public sector.
Notable improvements have been made in terms of decentralisation and sub-national democratic development. Islands of change exist in the public sector, demonstrating exemplary transparency and accountability. The One Window Service Office (OWSO) - a sub-national level initiative that transparently displays official fees for public services on the wall of public offices - is one of them.
“This comprehensive assessment is useful for Cambodian key state institutions to undertake reforms as well as for development partners and organisations who seek to support such efforts”, said Mr. Rath Sophoan, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Transparency International Cambodia. “In order to stamp out corruption, all stakeholders from the government, the private sector and civil society have to work together”, he added.
In consultation with relevant stakeholders, Transparency International Cambodia has formulated crucial policy recommendations. In particular, it is important that the following core recommendations are enacted:
- Reform the Judiciary, including:
- Ensure that all courtrooms and court procedures are open to everyone;
- Publish all decisions of judges as well as the reasons behind them;
- Ensure that judges are objectively recruited through an independent appointments body; and
- In consultation with relevant stakeholders, review and amend the three judicial reform laws to ensure independence of the judiciary.
- Amend the Law on Anti-Corruption, in particular:
- Article 41, which allows for the imprisonment of a complainant of a corruption-related crime, should be removed; and
- Article 20 should be amended to include a provision that asset declarations will be shared with parliament and the public.
- Pass a Law on Access to Information, including:
- Ensure maximum disclosure, with limited scope of exemptions;
- Place obligations on public bodies to disclose information;
- Ensure the information request process is easy and free or of minimal cost; and
- Include a protection for whistle-blowers.
- Reform the Public Sector, including:
- Establish an independent committee to govern all public servants;
- Publish details of expenditure, procurement contracts and service fees; and
- Ensure adequate remuneration for civil servants.
(*Please find a full list of recommendations in the overview document and the full report.)
“Corruption is a social disease, and this assessment should be seen as the diagnosis of its nature and causes while the list of recommendations can be regarded as a prescription for preventing and curing the corruption disease,” said Preap Kol, Executive Director of Transparency International Cambodia.
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