Hun Sen has an existential corruption problem

Ineffectual anti-corruption unit has ensured Cambodia’s consistent rank among world’s most graft-ridden nations

Originally published by Asia Times, January 14, 2020

This month’s collapse of another building under construction in Cambodia, killing 36 people including six children, underscored the government’s failure to prevent the endemic mismanagement and corruption that causes such tragedies.

While economists recognize that a certain amount of corruption helped to grease the wheels of the nation’s recent fast economic growth, it has now arguably become so pervasive that it represents an existential risk to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s de facto one-party state.

Last month, the US Treasury Department sanctioned two Cambodian businessmen suspected of corruption and illegal logging, accusations the Foreign Ministry said were based on groundless accusations, a source of “strong dismay” and an “ambush” on attempts to “restore trust and confidence” between the two nations.

The US move acted to freeze the US-based assets of Try Pheap and 11 of his companies involved in a wide range of businesses. It also banned US companies from doing business with his firms, the Treasury Department announcement said.

Such international criticism isn’t new. Over the last decade Cambodia has tumbled down international rankings on rule of law and corruption, ranking near the bottom of various annually compiled tables.

The World Justice Project, a Washington-based non-profit, ranked Cambodia second from the bottom on its rule of law ranking last year, just ahead of Venezuela but below the Democratic Republic of Congo. Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, ranked Cambodia 161st out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Much of the blame rests with the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), a government body established in 2010 by the Council of Ministers ostensibly to tackle endemic corruption. But over the past decade its successes have been few and far between.


Published by David Hutt

Journalist in Cambodia

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