Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen officially declared his assets to the country’s new anti-corruption unit Friday ahead of an official deadline, but opposition leaders and graft watchdogs say the process lacks public scrutiny.
Although the declaration is confidential, Hun Sen told reporters that he survives solely on his salary as prime minister of nearly 4.6 million riel (U.S. $1,150) per month. He did not publicly declare the extent of his personal wealth.
“The law requires me to declare my assets every two years and I plan to declare my assets again next time,” he said.
“I think that within two years my assets will decrease—there won’t be a gain. And besides my salary I don’t have any other income. But I think my children will support me—they won’t let me starve.”
Hun Sen also encouraged senior government and military officials to submit their assets to the task force ahead of the April 7 deadline, telling them, "Don't be hesitant or afraid."
More than 25,000 officials and heads of civilian organizations will be required to declare their assets, though not all of them are required to do so by next week, according to the anti-corruption unit. So far 10,000 officials have turned in the information.
Those who are facing the deadline but fail to meet it are subject to a fine of 2 million riel (U.S. $500) and at least one year in prison. The remaining officials will be required to declare their assets in stages.
Questions on transparency
But opposition members and watchdog groups have said that Hun Sen’s declaration points to inherent problems in the policy to bust graft in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
"There is an imbalance between the size of his salary and his current wealth," Mam Sitha, president of the Cambodia Independent Anti-Corruption Committee, a nongovernmental group, told AFP.
Sitha also said the unit should require that asset information be made publicly available.
"It is not transparent and it will not be effective in fighting corruption," she said.
In an interview with RFA last week, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay called on the anti-corruption unit to allow public access to declaration documents in order to establish a system of checks and balances.
He added that in Cambodian society, the wives and children of government officials often keep assets in their names.
“So far asset declaration has only included real estate, vehicles, and jewelry, but there is no money involved. The law doesn’t require wives and children to declare their assets too,” he said.
The requirement that Cambodian officials declare their assets every two years came into effect as part of an anti-graft law introduced in March 2010.
Under the law, officials face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of accepting bribes.
The law also led to the creation of an anti-corruption council and an anti-corruption unit to oversee investigations.
Last November, the anti-corruption unit made its first arrest, taking Top Chansereyvuth, the head prosecutor of Cambodia’s western Pursat province, into custody on charges of accepting U.S. $8,000 in bribes from illegal loggers.
But critics argue that the new bodies will not be effective, as they do not operate independently from the government and those overseeing them have poor track records.
In a statement on its website last October, Global Witness, an NGO that monitors government oversight, warned countries that provide aid to Cambodia that they should “not be fooled” by Cambodia’s anti-corruption initiative.
"This does not represent a break from the well-documented and entrenched patterns of corruption at the highest levels of Cambodia's government, and it should not be welcomed as such."
Anti-graft organization Transparency International ranked Cambodia 154th worst out of 178 countries in its 2010 corruption perception index, released in October last year.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spent three days in Cambodia at the end of last October, called on Hun Sen to do more to make the country’s corruption law a more effective tool in preventing the abuse of power.
Reported by Sok Serey and Samean Yun for RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.