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Justice, and the Perception of Justice

By: Norbert Klein Posted: December-06-2010 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 693

In the morning of 11 March 2010 an anti-corruption law was discussed and adopted by the National Assembly with 82 votes in favor from the 82 voters present. During the current week, its application – with the arrest of the first suspects – started.

To recall part of the history, it is said that this is the Cambodian law which had been in the status of being drafted for the longest time, compared to other laws. This process began in 1994, and when it was announced in December 2009 that the draft is finally ready, its text was not released until 5 March 2010, about only one week before its adoption.

Some section of Cambodian civil society, and also the UN Country Team in Cambodia, had expressed concerns about the speed of the last round of this process – after so many years of waiting – as this time frame did not provide much opportunity for a “transparent and participatory” process of discussing the draft among the interested public. The Cambodian government strongly rejected such comments, considering them as “flagrantly interfering in the internal affairs of a UN member state.” Besides this, the government considered the statement of the UN Country Team to be outside of its mandate to promote “good governance and the promotion and protection of human rights,” as laid down in the agreed UN Development Assistance Framework.

That this law had been awaited for such a long time is also related to the fact that Cambodia had been regularly ranked low in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, where it had the position 158 out of 180 countries in the 2009 report; according to the 2010 report released recently, Cambodia has now a ranking of 154 among 178 countries. Cambodia had also be ranked as the second most corrupt Southeast Asian country after Indonesia, in an annual poll by the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.

It should be stated again that Transparency International does not publish a Corruption Index, but a Corruption Perception Index. This is an important difference, because Transparency International has often been criticized as if they would pretend to be able to measure the extent of corruption in a country. That is not their claim. Here follows their explanation of what they research and publish, and under which name:

The Corruption Perceptions Index

Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. This definition encompasses corrupt practices in both the public and private sectors. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranks countries according to the perception of corruption in the public sector. The CPI is an aggregate indicator that combines different sources of information about corruption, making it possible to compare countries.

The 2010 CPI draws on different assessments and business opinion surveys carried out by independent and reputable institutions. It captures information about the administrative and political aspects of corruption. Broadly speaking, the surveys and assessments used to compile the index include questions relating to bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, and questions that probe the strength and effectiveness of public sector anti-corruption efforts.

For a country or territory to be included in the index a minimum of three of the sources that TI uses must assess that country.

…corruption – whether frequency or amount – is to a great extent a hidden activity that is difficult to measure. Over time, perceptions have proved to be a reliable estimate of corruption.

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But now, the Cambodian Anticorruption Unit has started to act.

On Monday, 29 November 2010, the Pursat Provincial Court Chief Prosecutor, Mr. Chan Sereivuth, and several other related persons were arrested, including his wife and bodyguards. The head of the Anticorruption Unit, Mr. Om Yentieng, was leading the action himself – but he was quoted to be too busy to speak to a journalist. So the reasons for the arrests were not known at the beginning. The officers of the Anticorruption Unit have the authority of Judicial Police, including the power to conduct investigations.

Later it was disclosed that the arrested persons face charges of corruption, illegal detention, and extortion, but that many additional cases may be brought up in the course of further investigations. These started to extend also to the handling, or not handling, of certain cases, as people who claim to have been unjustly accused, arrested, and detained, are now coming forward. It is therefore assumed that the original accusations which led to the arrests will now lead to many more problems surfacing.

Maybe this is the second most important element of these developments: First, that the arrests took place, but Second, it is reported, that “many more complaints will come forward now that Mr. Chan Sereivuth and his associates have been detained.”

Not only the situation changed, but also the perception of the situation! Until now many people just gave up, assuming that they will not get justice from a – corrupt, as it now becomes public – legal system. But as there is now hope that this situation is changing, many more people feel encouraged to ask for justice, which was denied them so far. Much will depend in the future on whether or not the new perception will prevail.

Norbert KLEIN

Note:Please have a look at About-the-Mirror, where important changes are announced.

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 693 – Friday, 3.12.2010
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror

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