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New momentum to fight against corruption

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Prime Minister Hun Sen this week has asserted his determination to use the so-called 5th principle of institutional reform, referring to “institutional surgery”. He also ordered the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to directly arrest corrupt officials on the spot, to prevent intervention from any agencies or individuals.

The Anti-Corruption Law was promulgated in 2010. However, the enforcement of the law remains an issue. As the implementing agency, the ACU fights against corruption under three key pillars: education, prevention, and obstruction and law enforcement.

For the ACU to perform effectively, it requires legal and security protection of the witnesses and informants. The mission of the ACU is to lead the fight against corruption, in all sectors, at all levels throughout the country through education, prevention and law enforcement and suppression with the participation of the public and international cooperation.

The reform results have been limited due to systemic and rampant corruption across state institutions and many a times, impunity. This is now a pandemic which needs to have extreme measures. Without urgent intervention, Cambodia is not able to strengthen its competitiveness amidst rising international competition and heightened geopolitical rivalries.

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report ranked Cambodia 130 out of 190 countries with a score of 54.80, a slight increase of 0.41 score compared with last year. Getting credit receives 80 scores, the highest score for Cambodia, and enforcing contracts, the lowest score.

As part of improving business and investment environment, the Cambodian government has taken two proactive measures, namely encouraging individual companies to sign an agreement with the ACU and the drafting of a guidebook on anti-corruption program for business in Cambodia.

Strengthening integrity in the society in general and in civil service in particular is not only just a matter of going on the offensive against corruption but also a constructive task of institution-building.

Intellectual honesty and independent thinking are important for institution-building. We need to seek the truth and provide evidence-based policy recommendations, not based on ideology or emotional judgement. Intellectual honesty can only bear fruits when there is a courage to speak out the truth, sometimes hard or inconvenient truth.

The war against corruption is a long-term, complex process. Political will and determination from the top leadership and a whole-of-government approach are required to combat corruption. It must be serious this time before it is too late.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has an absolute power now to reform the government institutions and to deliver concrete reform results. It is urgent to build a genuinely clean and honest government and it must start from the top.

Otherwise, the 5th principle of institutional reform or “institutional surgery,” will be just another short lived tag line and buzz word. In this regard, the decision to promote the former governor of Sihanoukville to become a four staff general is a step in the wrong direction.

Assertiveness is required in leadership and in this aspect, Prime Minister Hun Sen must demonstrate his will power to do so.

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