Cambodia’s National Assembly approved a long-awaited anti-corruption law, though opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote, charging the legislation was useless.
After two days of debate, the lower house of parliament agreed by a vote of all 82 members present to pass the legislation, 15 years after it was first proposed.
The 16 members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party who took part in the debate walked out before the ballot, saying the provisions of the law would only add to the problem of corruption because it’s not independent.
Cambodia is routinely listed by independent groups such as Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in Asia. The poor country is heavily dependent on foreign aid, and often faces criticism — though only weak pressure — from donor countries unhappy about the situation.
Last year, the U.S. ambassador asserted that corruption saps Cambodia of up to $500 million a year that could otherwise be used for development, but the government denied the allegation. In 2004, a study prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development said that Cambodia lost an estimated $300 million to $500 million annually to various forms of corruption.
Under the new legislation, any official found guilty of taking bribes would face up to 15 years in prison.
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said after the law was passed that it will give Cambodia new tools to help the government to get rid of corruption.
But Son Chhay of the Sam Rainsy Party said the law’s 57 articles were not intended to effectively fight corruption because they failed to create an independent, transparent body to oversee enforcement. The party says as a result, the law will only serve to support the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party.
They also complain that declarations of assets by politicians, civil servants, judges and members of the military and police would not be made public.