Sunday,2007-2-18: Corruption and Land Grabbing and Future Actions of the Government
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 495
There are many detailed definitions what the word “corruption” stands for. The World Bank says: “Corruption is the abuse of public power for private benefit.” Very simple and clear.
During this week, corruption was a lot in the news: on a conceptual, and on a practical level. Some of the discussions are becoming quite agitated. Why this development?
Conceptually, the problem of corruption has been on the agenda for years. The Prime Minister said, already in 2002, opening the Consultative Group Meeting between representatives of the Cambodian Government and representatives of cooperating countries and international institutions:
“We are conscious that corruption in the public machinery, be it judiciary or administrative or any other, increases transaction costs for everyone and reduces predictability in law enforcement and implementation of government’s policies… The government believes that enactment of adequate laws and regulations to prevent and punish corruption is crucial for addressing this problem. In this spirit, the Royal Government is committed to finalize the draft of the Anti -Corruption Law before the end of June 2003.”
Three years after that set date, during the 2006 Consultative Group Meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An identified corruption with harsh words as an evil affecting development in general:
“Corruption is a curse that undermines our aspirations for development, social justice and poverty reduction. The war against corruption is another set of reforms that will take time; much like the war against terrorism.
The adopted strategy is based on a three prone approach: prevention, law enforcement and mass support.”
But in spite of the fact that there surely would have been mass support for the fight against corruption, the law was still in draft form. Given this situation, the US Ambassador summed up, on behalf of the donor community, the accumulated concerns, recapitulating the steps taken:
“Immediately following the December 2004 Consultative Group Meeting, His Excellency Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen appointed the Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations and Inspection to establish a new drafting committee to revise the June 2003 draft anti-corruption law… In August 2005, a national workshop provided civil society, national and provincial officials and international technical experts an opportunity to review the draft law…
However, as the drafting and review process moves toward a conclusion, four critically important issues remain…
The current draft law… does not yet meet the international best practice standard highlighted at the December 2004 Consultative Group Meeting…”
Still, during this March 2006 meeting, US$601 million in assistance were pledged. Almost one year later, a draft anti-corruption law has not yet been presented to the National Assembly for debate and decision.
The irritation expressed by foreign diplomats on 12 January 2007, during a stocktaking meeting with representatives of the Cambodian government, have to be seen on the background of this history. And everybody will have to wait again.
But Cambodian society is increasingly encountering the problem of corruption on a different, practical level: the ever increasing massive cases of land grabbing by those who have the power to do so: “Corruption is the abuse of public power for private benefit.”
Way back in December 2005, the Prime Minister had warned that if illegal land seizures were not brought under control, they could lead to a farmers’ revolution. The government would not allow such a development. As newspapers during this and the previous weeks show, land grabbing continues, in different provinces and under different circumstances. Now the Prime Minister has added a surprising, different concern: not the desperate farmers might create a revolution, but elements of the powerful who are the perpetrators of taking more and more land, may want to topple the government.
Will the country really see some strong action – not only words of admonition – to rectify what is obviously going wrong? Or is it just some noise before the Commune Elections, as some voices say?
It is interesting to note that two countries – Vietnam and China – with which the Cambodian government has good relations, are experiencing intensive anti-corruption campaigns, where also a number of high ranking officials shave lost their position; some of them were not only re-assigned to other tasks, but were arrested, and some were executed.
The Chinese People’s Daily Online reported on 13 February 2007 the concerns of the Cambodian Prime Minister:
“The land grabbers dare to get a lot of land illegally while we have always appealed again and again to stop,” and the Prime Minister is quoted further: “The land grabbers are not simple people, and they must be powerful people in the government. I asked the question, do they dare to conduct a coup d’etat in the future?” And he is quoted to have replied himself that they really dare to do so. “So before they conduct a coup d’etat, we need to take action against them.”
When the Chinese Import-Export Bank (China Eximbank) agrees to extend to Cambodia “preferential buyer’s credit loans” to be repaid, it may not be asking as many questions as Western donors ask when they provide non-refundable grants. But obviously the Chinese government is also concerned about the orderly future of Cambodian society.