Courting disaster

September 23, 2015

Well, imagine my surprise! A delegation of international legal experts from the International Bar Association has found that Cambodia’s judiciary is riddled “with endemic corruption, bribery and political influence,” and has recommended the IBA reconsider Cambodia’s bar association’s membership in the international body.

The IBA found Cambodia’s judiciary is, at all levels, rife with corruption, while cases are overwhelmingly decided based on bribes or political influence.

Dr Philip Tahmindjis of the IBA said the level of judicial corruption in Cambodia was “staggering.” He went on: “We have seen a lot of corruption in other countries, but nothing on the endemic level that appears to be going on here.”

Another member of the IBA told a local newspaper: “We tried to find the names of judges who were independent minded and who don’t accept bribes. We got one anecdote from one very admirable lawyer who said that he had dealt with a judge who he knew hadn’t accepted a bribe and he thought the judge had ruled on the merits of his case. That was one lawyer, and he said it had happened to him once.”

The President of the Bar Association of Cambodia, Bun Honn, declined to comment, saying he had yet to see the report.

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Suffer the little children

September 9, 2015

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been travelling around Cambodia talking to orphans, for the annual sponsorship reports sent to people who stump up a small monthly amount of cash via the charity I work for, to help pay for a child’s basic needs: rice, soap, cooking oil, salt, washing powder, education and so forth.

Oddly, most of the children aren’t actually orphans: their parents have given them up as they’re too poor to look after them. Which makes my mind boggle a bit. The children range in age for about six to 19. Some of them are very disabled and will never live an independent life; others are bright and motivated and bursting with life and enthusiasm, waiting to get out into the world and become engineers and dentists and translators.

One orphanage is set up for kids with HIV, which you might imagine would be rather bleak, but the children are so funny and playful that they’re a delight to be around, even if it’s only for half-an-hour or so each once a year. They’re clean and just-about fed, and all of them are provided with anti-retroviral drugs. Nevertheless, two of them had died of AIDS-related illnesses since I saw them last year, which was a bit of a shock.

Orphanages here in Cambodia can be snakepits. Unscrupulous locals set them up, look for poor children, take them off their parents and open their doors to tourists who want to coo at the little people and hand over donations, which quickly disappear into the owner’s pockets. The government occasionally bust one of these when the children’s conditions get too bad, but it’s rare. Even worse is when a predatory paedophile from the West arrives and sets up an orphanage, giving him ready access to lots of delightful little children. It happens more than you think.

Of course, all the orphanages I deal with operate at the very highest standards and with the utmost probity. But that can be a rarity in this country. Travelling around the provinces with my colleague Saroen, it was fascinating to hear first-hand about the corruption so many people here take utterly for granted. Like which chains of petrol stations are owned by which government minister’s wife and so pay no tax. Or how that police car (pointing at a proper police car) is actually a fake, and is used for transporting illegal luxury wood to dealers in Vietnam. It was quite an eye-opener.

But later, sitting by a quiet village pond watching swifts dart across the skies and the vast thunderheads well up in the far distance across the perfect deafening green of the Cambodian countryside, or sitting in a roadside shack at dusk eating boiled corncobs and watching out for rock pythons, it seems like there are probably far worse places to be.

Unless you support the Cambodian football team, who lost 0-6 last night to Syria. Syria! Go Angkor Warriors!