Graft Panel Expanded

But will new appointments make any difference to Cambodia’s rampant corruption?

hunsen-305.jpg Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen waves to soldiers during a ceremony, Nov. 13, 2009.

PHNOM PENH—Cambodian MPs have elected two new members to the country’s anti-graft panel, days after international donors told the government to crack down on corruption and the World Bank opened a probe into alleged mismanagement of a controversial land project.

Opposition members complained, however that the two new members of the National Council for Anti-Corruption are linked to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Prak Sok and Top Sam were elected to the posts Tuesday with 45 out of 53 Senate votes and 83 out of 106 National Assembly votes, respectively.

The government has appointed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s advisor Om Yentieng to head the Anti-Corruption Unit.

The anti-corruption council comprises 11 members, all of whom must have higher education and be younger than 45. Three of the 11 members must be appointed by the King, the Senate, and the National Assembly.

One senior CPP official, Cheam Yeap, said the two candidates had earned their votes because of their own clean records.

But opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann criticized their selection, saying that the ruling party accounts for a majority of corrupt officials.

Donors and rights groups have meanwhile stepped up pressure on Cambodia to fight corruption.

“In the last 15 years of our investigations into high-level corruption on natural resources mismanagement, we found that by and large those who are in control of the forest or land … tend to be pro-CPP or CPP-affiliated,” a spokeswoman for U.K.-based watchdog group Global Witness, Eleanor Nichol, said.

“This obviously will present some difficulties in terms of prosecution when the anti-corruption panel is made up of CPP members,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of international donors at a conference here last week, World Bank country director Annette Dixon complained that “progress has been limited” in government work to improve strategic planning and aid management.

“It is important for the government to take the lead in aligning resources to development priorities,” she said.

Bank probe

The World Bank announced June 1 it would investigate allegations that mismanagement of its U.S. $28.8 million land-titling project has left more than 20,000 people facing forced eviction from their homes in Phnom Penh.

The program aimed to implement a system of land ownership in Cambodia after the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime destroyed all legal documents, but evictions at the hands of the Army and police have sparked sharp criticism and concern among rights advocates.

The Bank cited a complaint in September on behalf of representatives of more than 4,000 families living around Boeung Kak lake in Phnom Penh who have suffered or are currently threatened with forced eviction.

“The World Bank acknowledged in August 2009 that the safeguards had been breached and approached the Cambodian Government to discuss measures to bring the project back into compliance,” it said in a statement. Cambodia then ended its agreement with the World Bank, citing the Bank’s “complicated conditions,” it said.

In February 2007, local authorities granted Cambodia’s Shukaku Inc. a 99-year lease on the land around Boeung Kak lake at a cost of U.S. $79 million.

Development plans for the 133-hectare site included filling in 80 of the lake’s 90 hectares and using that space to build a luxury residential area, office complex, and shopping center.

Families living around the lake protested the forced eviction and what they said was a lack of adequate compensation for their land.

The Cambodian military regularly guards large-scale private land concessions across the country, according to rights groups, and the government has used it to evict the rural poor for business developments.

Donors nonetheless last week pledged a record U.S. $1.1 billion in aid to Cambodia for the year.

Original reporting by Samean Yun and Vuthy Huot for RFA's Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Translated by Samean Yun. Written for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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