Sunday,2007-08-19: The Law and the Will to Act

Posted on 20 August 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 521 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 521

Discussions about the overdue anti-corruption law – dragging on since many years already – are regularly called up again, such as the reminder by a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian does, who is quoted: “Mr. Yim Sovann: Government Must Prepares Anti-Corruption Law in Time.” Such statements have been made so often that they hardly receive much attention any longer. But the issue got an interesting, new aspect by a surprising statement quoting the Prime Minister, that such a law may not even be necessary: “Samdech Hun Sen: Action against corruption can be conducted if we are willing.”

During the past week the public saw two outstanding examples of what this may mean.

It is not the first time that allegations about high level corruption had been raised. Such allegations have not only be made by persons critical towards the government. Also government ministers have hinted at corruption in the administration, and at the involvement of some people at the courts. But different from some other countries – like China and Vietnam, waging a bitter war against corrupt high level officials – hardly any high ranking officials or their relatives have been investigated by the law enforcement authorities or brought to court in Cambodia.

This week changed the image. The presiding judge at the Appeals Court was dismissed from her position – accused of having accepted bribes, and an advisor of the President of the National Assembly was arrested, accused of being related to the production of narcotic drugs.

The statement by the Prime Minister, that action against corruption can be conducted “if we are willing,” seems to have received a practical explanation by these examples: such actions, even against high level persons suspected of, or caught in corrupt actions, are possible, if the authorities are willing to act. Perpetrators are being brought onto the way where legal procedures will determine their fate. But this leaves also an uneasy feeling. Does the Prime Minister’s statement include the allegation that there were also other cases, where the authorities could have acted, if there would have been the political will to do so? And does it mean that this determination and will now exists, to continue to act in similar cases decisively?

There have been many cases where the media have shared critical findings with the public and with the authorities – like, for example, this week, the report that illegally “huge amounts of wood have been transported during the flood season in Kratie.”

Will this be investigated by the authorities? Will there be continuing press reports about what happens there now, as the result of actions of the authorities? Will it be accepted that such critical reports are constructive, upholding law and order, and not irresponsible cursing of the authorities? After all, the report from Kratie is implying that the authorities and the persons involved did not control such illegal transports.

What does it mean that the Phnom Penh municipality “tells people, who have money to buy houses, to be careful” – because some companies construct buildings illegally? It is first of all the responsibility of the Phnom Penh municipality and of other sections of the administration to take care that illegal constructions do not happen. In the Kob Srov Lake case, the authorities knew for many months that massive illegal construction had been going on – but it was only months later that these actions were intercepted.

When the press points to certain dubious actions and raises critical questions, this does not imply that illegalities have already been identified, based on facts. But in public life and in politics not only facts count, but also perceptions, as we have mirrored from time to time. The statement by the US Ambassador who said “that so many Khmer citizens do not believe that National Election Committee is independent and just” is such a case. For a healthy move towards the 2008 national elections it is not enough that the National Election Committee is independent and just – for a sound social atmosphere it is, in addition, important that the public is convinced that this is really the case. As long as widespread public suspicion continues – that there is high level corruption, or that the election procedures are not organized free and fair – there is need for the government to remove such doubts.

The present week brought already some initial impressive examples of such action.

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