Corruption and Venality in the Cambodian Government

22 June 2009

Anyone coming from a modern, effective, functioning democracy has to be amazed at the venality, the ineptitude, the lunacy, the corruption, the self-aggrandizement, the lack of concern for people that is regularly reported about the Cambodian government in the newspapers.  The sheer frequency and scale of the reports is astounding.  And the government doesn't seem to care that all this is made public.  It doesn't embarrass them one whit or encourage any contrition or resolution of improvement.  Incredible.

This page will profile some of these reports for the period of six weeks or a month, just to give a sample of what is happening.  The stories and facts and quotations come from The Cambodia Daily which provides an admirable service in reporting on the Cambodian government.

7 June 2009
Drivers of Confiscated Tuk-Tuks Report Bribery, Missing Parts

"Twelve days after Daun Penh district authorities carried out a mass cleanup opeation, confiscating more than 30 tuk-tuks and removing numerous alleged sex workers and drug dealers from Phnom Penh's riverfront, most of the drivers affected by the operation had their vehicles returned....

But despite the relief felt among most drivers, frustration was also in the tuk-tuk drivers said their vehicles had been damaged. Drivers also said that officials at Phnom Penh muniicpal traffic police office asked for bribes of up to $35 before handing over their vehicles."

  • $35 is equivalent of four or five days wages for a tuk-tuk driver.
  • The tuk-tuks were rounded up shortly before a big Asean-EU summit in Phnom Penh although the police deny there is any connection to the meeting.
9 June 2009
US Embassy Keeps Mum on Rodley's Remarks on Corruption

"The government has reacted severly to Ms Rodley's assertion, made at an anti-corruption concert, that the Cambodian government loses $500 million in public funds every year to corruption.  Two ministries and the Cambodian ambassador to London have now issued statements condemning the ambassoador's remarks, while Phnom Penh municipality questioned organizers of the Clean Hands anti-corruption concert."

  • The Cambodian ambassador to Britain who issued a statement is the "son of Foreign Minister Hor Namhong who also has another son who is ambassador to Japan."

7 June 2009
SRP Lawmaker Answers Questions in Disinformation Case

"SRP lawmaker Ho Vann answered questions on Friday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court related to defamation and incitement lawsuits filed by 22 senior soldiers who are upset by comments the parliamentarian was reported to have made about the quality of their college degrees."

  • [Read the above again: 22 SENIOR military officials are upset because someone challenged the quality of their college degrees and so they file a lawsuit! I guess it's better than using an AK-47--the most common tool of choice for settling disputes in Cambodia--but it certainly shows the Mickey Mouse character of this government and its military. (Apologies to Mickey Mouse who has his act together more than these guys.)]
  • The deputy prosecutor who questioned this lawmaker is also prosecuting three other government-initiated defamation suits against an opposition lawmaker and her lawyer and a newspaper editor linked to the opposition. When asked why he was working on these multiple defamation cases on behalf of the government, he didn't answer and hung up the phone.
  • Somehow I don't think the fact that THESE 22 officers have degrees would make anyone in Cambodia feel any safer or more secure!

7 June 2009
Rights Worker Summoned in Takeo Disinformation Case

"A human rights worker is scheduled to be questioned by Takeo Provincial Court on Monday over allegations of disinformation arising from radio broadcasts that accused a local Cham imam of corruption."

  • This lawsuit is one of ten defamation and disinformation lawsuits now going on.
  • The comments that have bothered the imam (Muslim cleric) were made on Radio Free Asia broadcasts and alleged that imam misused funds donated for the improvement of his mosque.

7 June 2009
Guesthouse Told It Needs Official OK to Host CCHR Meeting

"The Cambodian Center for Human Rights is now without a location to hold a town-hall style meeting with residents of the threatened Boeng Kak lake area after authorities told a local guesthouse where the meeting was to be held that the gathering required official authorization....

The CCHR meeting is being organized to discuss the concerns of the nearly 4,000 families who live around the Boeng Kak lake and are facing eviction after a deal was struck between the city and a firm owned by a CPP senator which involves filling in the massive lake, evicting many of the area's current inhabitants and then building private retail and residential units that will then be sold privately."

  • The local official who prohibited the meeting could not cite the law that required private residents meeting together to have official approval but she said the human rights organization must respect the law. "I have no idea in other places whether they require permissions," she said while demanding that CCHR acquire permission.
  • An earlier request to hold the meeting inside a local mosque was sent to the Phnom Penh governor three weeks before the planned meeting. The answer was received on the day of the scheduled meeting and was vague, saying CCHR "better seek permission from the mosque authorities first."

4 June 2009
Opposition Calls for Greater Transparency in Gov't "Swaps"

"With more state-owned buildings in prime areas of Phnom Penh falling into the hands of private owners under the secretive process of so-called property 'swaps,' the opposition party called for the government to come clean on transactions and to open the deals to public scrutiny.

In late April, the Social Affairs Ministry transferred ownership of its spacious colonial-era building on Norodom Boulevard that once housed the ministry's directorate of technical affairs to an unknown private developer. Officials have released almost no information on the deal or the new owner other than to say that in exchange for the building on the city's most prestigious boulevard, the ministry had received an alternate five-story building constructed inside the ministry's new compound on Monivong Boulevard."

6 June 2009
Questioning after Claims of Gov't Corruption

"Municipal officials called five staff members of non-governmental organizations and a well-known TV presenter for questioning over an anti-corruption concert at the Olympic Stadium during which US Ambassador Carol Rodley said that Cambodia loses some $500 million each year to corruption.

The ambassador's comments set off a firestorm of criticism and indignation in government circles and resulted in three strongly worded letters of rebuke, including a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that reminded the foreign diplomatic corps not to meddle in the internal affairs of Cambodia."

  • Permission was given for the concert, according to the Municipal Governor, with the requirement that the government not be attacked. [Who needs permission for a concert in a free society? Why can't opposition groups verbally "attack" the government?]
  • This is another example of a thin-skinned, secretive, insecure government that must resort to intimidation and force.
  • The ambassador also called for the government to pass the anti-corruption law which was first sent to the legislature in 1994 but still hasn't been acted on.
  • The head of a rights group expressed concern that the government would once again follow-up the questioning of the organizers with lawsuits as they have done in the past, invoking charges of defamation, incitement, and disinformation--accusations that would be laughed at in a free society.

4 June 2009
Court Questions Mu Sochua in Defamation Suit

On April 4th, in one of his characteristic speeches, Prime Minister Hun Sen made disparaging remarks about a "strong-legged woman" (a phrase with connotations of prostitution in Khmer slang). No one is in doubt that he was speaking about Ms. Mu Sochua, a former minister and now an opposition party lawmaker. She filed a defamation lawsuit against the prime minister. He in return filed a counter defamation suit. Defamation suits are the government's typical way of attacking, harassing, even imprisoning the political opposition. This article comments on the court's questioning of Mu Sochua and her attorney about the prime minister's lawsuit, not about her own.

  • The government is threatening to list Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity so she can be prosecuted.
  • The courts are proceeding with the prime minister's countersuit without first dealing with the initial suit of Mu Sochua against the prime minister. The deputy prosecutor in charge of her suit said he hadn't had time to question anyone about it. It was then pointed out that he had time to question people in a third government defamation suit filed two weeks after Ms. Mu's suit.
  • This is so typical of the prime minister's and the government's attitude and approach, basically bludgeoning opponents from their position of power as the ruling power.

4 June 2009
Cambodia Has Among Highest Levels of Graft

"Almost half of Cambodian families have paid bribes in the last year, as did a whopping three quarters of those who dealt with the country's judicial system, according to an international corruption survey.... Only Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cameroon had higher rates of reported graft."

  • Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, 10% of the population reported paying bribes.
  • 62% of the Cambodians interviewed for the Transparency International survey identified the judiciary as the most corrupt sector in the country.
  • The government's spokesman did not dispute the high incidence of bribery but stressed that the government is paying a lot of attention to reform. He used the draft law of the anti-corruption law as evidence of the government's intentions--which seems rather self-defeating since the draft law was introduced in the mid 1990's and the government just hasn't had the time to pass it yet.
  • While reporting high levels of bribery, a surprising 67% of those interviewed said they believe the government actually is effective in battling corruption.

3 June 2009
Labor Ministry Building "Swapped" in Private Deal

"The Labor Ministry building in Phnom Pen has been "swapped" to a private investor, and hundreds of civil servants have vacated and moved to a new compound on Russian Boulevard, though several government officials...decline to provide details about the deal, who now owns the building or how much was paid for the prime property."

  • When questioned about the deal, the Minister of Labor claimed the Finance Ministry had acted transparently but refused to give any details. "'We could not do anything stupid--it is a state property,' he said without elaborating."
  • The minister said he didn't know who owned the building now or how much was paid for it.
  • An opposition party member said that the National Assembly didn't know about the swap so how could ordinary citizens know what was going on.

27 May 2009
Firm with CPP Ties Awarded Gov't Contract, Officials Say

"A local construction firm with close family ties to high-ranking ruling party politicians is constructing its third high-profile government building, officials confirmed..., although some question how and why the company was awarded the project."

  • The contract was given to Ly Chhuong Construction Company to build the prime minister's new office building after constructing the National Assembly building earlier.
  • The father-in-law of Ly Chhuong is Cheam Yeap, a CPP (ruling party) lawmaker. Cheam Yeap was head of the committee responsible for awarding the National Assembly contract in 2004.
  • The general manager of Ly Chhuong Construction is the son of one of two government officials overseeing the construction of the new building for the prime minister.
  • The process for awarding the premier's office building contract is not clear and the officials responsible for the process declined to outline it or say how it took place. The cost of the building is not known and an opposing political party said that the bidding process was never made public.

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