Cambodia last in Asean graft, critics claim ‘bias’

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) - Released on Tuesday, Transparency International’s 2018 global Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Cambodia 161 out of 180 countries – the same ranking it held in 2017.

But Cambodian government officials responded to the news by saying they cared little about the ranking, with some other observers saying the assessment was biased and politically motivated.

The index ranks countries based on perceptions of corruption in the public sector, with Cambodia reportedly dropping one point due to a decline in its democracy ranking.

This once again ranked the Kingdom below all other Asean states, placing it near the bottom of all countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The index ranked Singapore top among Asean countries and third in the world, up from sixth in 2017. Brunei was the second highest ranked Asean nation at 31, followed by Malaysia (61), Indonesia (89), the Philippines and Thailand (joint 99), Vietnam (117), and Myanmar and Laos (joint 132).

Transparency International Cambodia executive director Preap Kol said at a press conference in the capital on Tuesday that the Kingdom received 20 points in the rankings, dropping one point from 2017 due to an apparent decline in democracy.

“The factor that pulled Cambodia down one point is related to the health of democracy because the health of Cambodia’s democracy was not good last year,” he said.

Transparency International’s assessment of Cambodia said that though it has achieved certain outcomes in education, corporate registration, national revenue collection and public services, perceptions of large scale corruption among the country’s business and political communities remained strong.

“Structural reforms and other key systems, especially in relation to the rule of law, have been little improved, or almost none."

“In the last few years, it has been noted that the political environment was not favourable to media outlets, NGOs and some democratic institutions. They were able to play a very little role in overseeing and ensuring the balancing of power,” the assessment read.

However, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan responded to the news by saying the government does not care about the ranking.

He said the government is concerned with policies, winning elections, leading the country, ensuring peace and political stability and national development.

“We are not going to get a headache or dizzy over this ranking. No matter how many points they give, it doesn’t matter, we will continue to go forward,” he stressed.

Vong Socheata, a member of Transparency International Cambodia’s board of directors, said the Kingdom has taken some positive steps to eradicate corruption in various sectors.

“Reducing small-scale corruption and increasing national revenue through fiscal tax collection is a result of efforts made to improve the quality of public services and public financial management."

“But large scale corruption and political corruption was not handled properly. Corruption will continue to create social injustice and pose a risk to Cambodia’s development,” she said.

Kin Phea, the director-general of the Institute of International Relations at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, slammed the ranking, accusing it of being “politically motivated”.

He said it was not valid as the assessment procedures and the final ranking was biased and coloured by a political agenda attempting to make the international community look at Cambodia negatively.

“For me, Transparency International’s report more or less came with a political agenda. Some international organisations look at Cambodia in a negative way, embedded with a political agenda."

“We see how their assessments were conducted . . . the way they review is biased and not reflective of the real situation in Cambodia,”  he said.

Cambodian officials, he said, acknowledged that there is a problem with corruption, but it is not nearly as bad as the assessment suggests, adding that corruption exists in every country in the world.

Om Yen Tieng, the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit president, could not be reached for comment on the report.

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