Building Confidence Requires Transparent Application of the Law – Sunday, 10.1.2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 646
Drafts for an anti-corruption law have been under consideration since 14 years, but now a draft was finalized by the Council of Ministers in December and sent to the National Assembly. The spokesperson of the Council of Ministers had declared – in response to expressed public interest its content – that it is still secret until it reaches the National Assembly.
This did not prevent him to disclose what we reported in the Mirror in our New Year’s comment:
The only details of the anti-corruption law that have been made public on Friday is the fact that the staff of NGOs are required to disclose their personal assets. Under the law, NGO workers are defined as public servants, and side-by-side with officials who are paid by the government, they must disclose their assets. ‘It is an obligation to do so, if you don’t do it, you are jailed,’ Mr. Phay Siphan is quoted to have said.
A New Year’s surprise is the news that – though the draft sent in December must have reached the National Assembly by now – it will not be debated until April at the earliest. The promise, that this draft will be made public after sending it to the National Assembly, is now added to the long list of not kept promises which led do the past delays.
And it has to be remembered that in the past, drafts of laws were available for public consideration during the often long processes of their preparation. Why not also now?
Such delays give only rise to rumors and speculations. For example, one voice claimed to know that the requirement to disclose personal assets will not apply to every low level public servant at the local level, but only to those elected into public functions, or higher level public servants appointed by sub-decree and decree. But as the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers said that also NGO workers will be considered to be public servants required to disclose their personal assets – at which level will this apply?
Whatever the reason for this promise of disclosure after transmission to the National Assembly not fulfilled, it does not build trust among the public.
A state of law is a situation where everybody – both law enforcement and the citizens – know the rules and what can be expected. The rule of law does not have much flexibility – like to apply or not to apply the law under specific circumstances. It is not a question of convenience when to apply it, or on whom not to apply it. Trust in the rule of law – trust that justice will prevail in society – is based on the confidence that the law is applied equally on every person, without any difference of social status of economic power.
This week brought some complex problems to the public.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia were established, after long and complicated negotiations between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations, as an independent court to clarify what had happened during a clearly defined and limited time of the Khmer Rouge regime, and to find justice for crimes committed.
After similar warnings by the Prime Minister, now the President of the Senate and of the Cambodian Peoples Party stated that he is concerned that war might break out, if more than the five people presently facing the court would be indicted. This gives not only the impression that highest level leaders of the state do not have confidence that the law enforcement agents, the courts and the police, and in addition other armed elements of the state are able to control and maintain public order. It raises the question whether the decision to establish the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia as an independent court, by agreement with the United Nations, is valid or can be conveniently be revoked.
Of course legal agreements can be revoked – with good reasons when they do not serve justice: the Mondolkiri provincial authorities canceled the concessions of 50 companies that did not do for what they had been contracted.
The removal of markers at the border with Vietnam by the president of the Sam Rainsy Party – in response to claims by Cambodian farmers that these border markers cut them off from some of their farming land – leads almost day-by-day to new levels of conflict. He committed what he says was a symbolic act to point to the loss of land. A court and leaders of the government point out that this was – whatever the motivation behind – an illegal act for which the courts find a response based on the law. The fact that most recently Mr. Sam Rainsy is quoted with a statement that he will agree to let the court convict him, if the arrested farmers are released and their land is returned, offers a deal. But as in the case of suggested restrictions on the independence of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, it is not easy to see how a deal could be made, which would allow the course of the law to be deviated. Present appeals to the King, asking for his intervention, do not show how this could legally happen; a Royal Pardon can be contemplated only after somebody is convicted.
The disclosures by publicly known persons, children in their twenties of high ranking parents, about the tremendous wealth at their disposal – a residence of US$500,000 and another residence of US$200,000 and a rubber plantation of 400 hectares – Porsches, Bentleys and Humvees, and a US$500,000 Mercedes McLaren SLR – automatic assault rifles, Glock pistols and a sniper’s rifle – provide an interesting field for the new anti-corruption law, once it is in place – plus the question whether all these weapons are legally licensed, and on what grounds. There were, over time, repeated shooting incidents reportedly by children of high ranking parents, who used firearms, but not for self-defense or protection against violence.
Will there be questions by some agencies – nothing is know yet – to investigate how such riches could be collected, while the modest salaries of the parents are known and cannot account for such extreme wealth. One of the children interviewed said: “Your parents give you all these things. You can’t say no. If someone gives you cake, you eat it.” A anti-corruption commission will not be satisfied with such an answer.
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