Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday defended his government, saying its reputation for corruption is undeserved, laying blame on the private sector for initiating the bribe process and calling out international development partners for applying double standards.
Speaking at the Eighth Regional Conference of Anti-Corruption Intiative for Asia and the Pacific in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen conceded that corruption can occur within government ranks when it comes to public spending, but when business is involved, he pointed the finger squarely at the private sector.
“Do not forget that the private sector is the one who pays bribes. If the private sector does not bribe, where does the official get the money from?” he asked.
Hun Sen also called on businesses to take up the fight against corruption and to be more transparent, as government officials were all too often wrongly accused.
“Sometimes, government officials are only there to be blamed, when they did not receive any bribes,” he said.
Companies need to keep a closer eye on staff who may claim they need extra cash to bribe an official, when the money is more likely to go into that staff member’s own pocket, the premier added.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said yesterday that while the private sector does have a role in fighting corruption, it quite often has no choice if it requires government services.
“We cannot completely blame it on the private sector; the government holds a bigger responsibility in anti-corruption than the private sector does, because they are the one who have the administrative power to set regulations and practices that can ensure a clean business environment,” he said.
Te Taing Por, president of the Federation of Associations for Small and Medium Enterprises of Cambodia (FASMEC), said yesterday that it was impossible for the private sector to avoid corruption.
“There is not any mechanism from the government to simplify processes regarding public service for us as the companies,” he said. “We have to pay extra fees for officials to follow the paper process or else it will not happen,” he added.
It wasn’t just the private sector in the prime minister’s sights yesterday – international development agencies were also called out.
Citing the cases of IMF chief Christine Lagarde, under investigation for fraud over a 2008 case relating to her time as France’s finance minister, and former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, who resigned in 2007 following a hefty pay raise for his bank-employed mistress, Hun Sen warned the ADB to be wary of corruption in its own ranks.
“I do hope that the ADB will not damage its reputation like the IMF and the World Bank,” he said.
The prime minister also called on the ADB to help set a standard across corruption indexes, which he said unfairly rank Cambodia and are not factually based.
“Sometimes it is too much. Being an international organisation, you come and defame a country’s reputation,” he said, without naming any specific organisation. “Will they [a sovereign nation] be willing to accept it? A state with sovereignty will not accept it.”
Citing Transparency International as an organisation that has strong standards behind its evaluations, San Chey, country network coordinator of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) Cambodia, said it was just a matter of the organisations meeting with the government and explaining how they work.
“Actually, they have their own evaluation tools. I think the government, the ACU [the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit] and Transparency International should sit down together and look at the evaluation tools to avoid pointing the finger at each other,” he said.