A global corruption perceptions index has ranked Cambodia 161st out of 180 countries, with the report specifically pointing to weak press freedoms and NGO protections as facilitators of graft – issues that commentators have repeatedly raised as concerns in the Kingdom.
The Corruption Perception Index was released by Transparency International yesterday and ranks countries based on perceived levels of public sector corruption, with Cambodia dropping five places from last year to rank near the bottom of the Asia-Pacific region. It was ranked below all Asean member states for the third year in a row.
Singapore was the top-ranked Asean state for least perceived corruption, at sixth place worldwide. Just above Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos rounded out Asean’s bottom three, at 130th and 135th place, respectively, in the 10-member regional bloc.
An analysis of the report by the authors reveals that countries’ failure to protect journalists and the obstruction of NGOs meant they were more prone to corruption. “Further analysis of the results indicates that countries with the least protection for press and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also tend to have the worst rates of corruption,” the report reads.
The Kingdom embarked on a government crackdown in the past six months that has seen not only the dissolution of the primary opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, but also heightened pressure on NGOs and the closure of many independent media outlets.
Last year, two Radio Free Asia journalists and an independent filmmaker were arrested on “espionage” charges, the fiercely independent Cambodia Daily newspaper was forced to close after being slapped with a $6.3 million tax bill and more than a dozen independent radio stations were taken off the air.
An Amnesty International report, also released yesterday, called the attack on the opposition and NGOs the “misuse of the criminal justice system” to hamper activities ahead of the July national elections, and also pointed to the silencing of radio frequencies and shuttering of news outlets.
Preap Kol, director of Transparency International (TI) Cambodia, said it was not encouraging that Cambodia was at the bottom of Asean for the last three years, with only petty corruption related to public services seeing some improvement.
The Cambodian People’s Party-led government professed its commitment to tackling corruption after the party’s surprising near-loss in the 2013 elections, Kol said in an email, “But these improvements are much below the expectation of the general public especially when grand corruptions were not tackled effectively yet.”
He also agreed that consistent attacks on the media and NGOs, as witnessed during last year’s crackdown, hampered efforts to highlight corrupt practices.
The TI report cites data from the Committee to Protect Journalists that shows that from 2012, of the 368 journalists killed pursuing stories, 96 percent were from countries with corrupt public sectors.
The cut-off for being deemed “corrupt” is a score of 45 on the index – Cambodia has scored a consistent 21 over the past three years.
Anti-Corruption Unit chief Om Yentieng could not be reached yesterday.
But ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan was quick to dismiss the rankings, saying it did not matter where Cambodia was placed, only that the country was developing, a frequent government refrain.
Development, he maintained, “reflects that there is no corruption, and that it’s not like what they said”.
Updated: 6:32am, Friday 23 February 2018