Cambodia’s position on the worldwide Corruption Perceptions Index has sunk to 162nd place, according to the 2019 Transparency International (TI) report released Thursday, maintaining the country’s title as the most corrupt in Southeast Asia.
“Cambodia appears not to have made any significant improvements. It means that it still remains bottom among its regional peers,” said Pech Pisey, a spokesperson for Transparency International’s Cambodia office, in a statement.
He called the result “not very promising.”
Now in its 25th year, the index measures public sector corruption and scores 180 countries and territories with a value ranging from 0 (most corrupt) to 100 (least corrupt). Cambodia scored a 20 for the second year in a row, suggesting anti-corruption efforts have stalled. The average score for a country in the index is 43.
Despite maintaining its same national grade, Cambodia’s rank among nations dropped by one place since the 2018 report, when it ranked 161st in the index.
Cambodia appears not to have made any significant improvements. It means that it still remains bottom among its regional peersPech Pisey, spokesperson for Transparency International’s Cambodia office
Pisey said the index is not hugely swayed by specific events. But in Cambodia, government officials started 2019 by dismissing outright the previous TI report as “biased and not reflective of the real situation,” and launched 2020 with the trial this month of former opposition leader Kem Sokha in a treason case some in the international community allege is politically motivated.
“One significant event in a certain area is unlikely to change the whole picture of a country’s result,” explained Pisey. “For Cambodia, TI relied on data from 8 sources from credible organisations and institutions which conduct the annual study on different areas in Cambodia.”
Human rights organisations expected the downturn, but were nonetheless disappointed in what it represents for the country.
“Human rights defenders, journalists, union leaders, community representatives, and others exercising their fundamental freedoms are often subject to judicial harassment. Impunity remains a serious concern in Cambodia,” said Sopheap Chak, executive director of the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), an organisation working for the protection of political and civil rights in Cambodia.
She listed the cases of Chut Wutty, an environmental activist, trade unionists Chea Vichea and Ros Sovannareth, as well as that of Dr. Kem Ley as examples of the “pervasive culture of impunity” in Cambodia.
Cambodia’s position on the list held steady for years before beginning to decline in 2018. This year’s report flags factors such as restriction of participation in public affairs, silencing of dissenting voices and privacy of decision-making as all contributing to TI’s assessment of corruption in Cambodia. Those same variables contributed to low rankings as well as in Vietnam and China.
The Southeast Asian country with the next-highest level of corruption is Myanmar, which came in a full 31 spots higher with a score of 29.
On Monday, The Economist Intelligence Unit published its own index to measure the level of democracy worldwide. According to the researchers behind that report, “Global democracy took a turn for the worse in 2019,” with the index reporting its worst global score since the project’s first year, in 2006.
Countries were ranked based on five categories: Electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties. Based on that rubric, Cambodia scored a 3.53 out of 10, or 124th on the global list.
That number represents an all-time low from the Intelligence Unit, down from Cambodia’s peak score of 4.96 in 2012, but still ranked the kingdom higher than both Vietnam and Laos.
Cambodia is far from the only country to lose ground on the indices.
The Transparency International report pegs more than two-thirds of the countries measured, including “many of the world’s most advanced economies” such as Canada and Australia, as “stagnating or showing signs of backsliding in their anti-corruption efforts.”