Cambodia’s juridical system has been found to be the country’s main source of corruption, earning it the lowest score in the region on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
The non-profit released its findings on Tuesday, which revealed that Cambodia had improved by two points – from 21 in 2020 to 23 in 2021 (out of a best possible score of 100) – and ranked 157 among 180 countries and territories globally.
The report also revealed that Cambodia ranked as the most corrupt among ASEAN countries – below even Myanmar, which scored 28 points. The valuation for Myanmar was made before the military coup that took over the country.
In the Asia Pacific, Cambodia placed third from the bottom, above only Afghanistan and North Korea.
Singapore continued to be ranked among the top 10 “cleanest” countries globally, earning the same score this year (85), which ties it with Sweden and Norway in fourth place.
Other countries in the region saw a decline in scores compared to the previous year: Malaysia (down from 51 to 48), Thailand (36 to 35), and the Philippines (34 to 33).
Others have improved: Vietnam (up from 36 to 39), Indonesia (37 to 38), and Lao PDR (29 to 30).
Pech Pisey, the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said that Cambodia’s slight increase in points on the CPI is due to the improved ease of doing business and the decline in small-scale corruption act mostly in publishing services. However, Pisey said that corruption remains a serious issue in public-sector bureaucracy.
“The corruption level in Cambodia remains high. And this is an ongoing concern for the people, the private sector, and stakeholders,” he said, adding that the influx of Chinese investors has also brought more corruption in business dealings
“They bribe to speed up the process of doing business and this would cause corruption in the public sector,” he said. “The government should address the issue, or we would only attract unclean investors.”
Pisey also said that the juridical system, since it’s found to be the main source of corruption, needs to be urgently addressed.
“Any law implementation needs an independent juridical system that will bring justice for all. The corruption in our juridical system would limit the rights to access justice and it also lead to social status division,” he said.
According to the European Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Business Confidence Survey in the time of COVID-19, some level of discontent was expressed with the current state of doing business in Cambodia. Concerns were voiced over non-transparent practices and unofficial fees that have to be paid as growing obstacles.
Moreover, Cambodia’s judicial system has been accused of being corrupt and frequently following the ruling party’s demands. According to the former UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, more than a third of the nation’s prison population is in pre-trial detention – though some rights groups estimate the figure to be closer to 75 percent.
In 2021, Cambodia’s justice minister pledged to crack down on corruption in the nation’s judicial system, declaring the fight against corruption to be a key part of a now year-long campaign to clear the backlog of cases in Cambodia’s courts.
However, a Cambodian government’s spokesman, Phay Siphan, calls the report untrustworthy and unacceptable.
“We have done a lot of things related to social accountability and we are transforming our financial management with more accountability by establishing a transparent system,” he said. “They do not know what the government has been doing. We do not value the finding [by Transparency International Cambodia] and the government does not trust its methodology.”
He said the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) is working secretly to track prosecutors’ activities to ensure legal institutions are free of corruption.
“We cannot jail all judges. ACU is the justice police and are authorized to arrest those who commit corruption,” he said.
According to Transparency International, the CPI’s conclusions are based on data from eight international institutions, including the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that corruption has been affecting the upholding of human rights in the country, especially the right to property.
“Land disputes have become a chronic issue and it comes from the corruption related to land registration and the process of addressing the disputes,” she said.
The CPI recommends that the Cambodian government end restrictions on freedom of expression and make the pursuit of justice for crimes against human rights defenders an urgent priority. It also recommends restoring and strengthening institutional checks on power, and amending anti-corruption legislation to meet international standards.