Corruption is the most critical issue of our time. People can make a difference.

More than 1,500 leaders and activists from more than 130 countries are gathering at the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) today (November 7) in Brasilia, Brazil to share experience and learn new skills and tools to combat corruption more effectively. The honorable guests of speaker for the opening session include the President of Brazil, Honorable Dilma Rousseff and Chair of Transparency International, Madame Huguette Labelle.

The theme for the 15th IACC is “Mobilizing People, Connecting Agents of Change” which put strong emphasis on the importance of people who are the key factors in driving change for a better world and a better society through demanding for, and activity participating in creating, a more accountable and transparent government in each country and territory. I have the honor and privilege to participate in this special event and would like to write a short article to share my personal opinions and knowledge as the following:

The affects of Corruption:  It has always been clear that corruption does the greatest harm to the livelihood of people especially the poor who might not even fully understand the definition of corruption. Almost every single problem people are facing on this planet whether it is injustices, human right abuses, illegal logging and broken roads or bridges or poor quality of education and health services, increased crimes and drugs, etc have all been caused by corruptions. It is a symptom to many social problems.

It is evidenced that countries that are poorer are well known to be more corrupt and on the contrary, the countries

President of Brazil, Hon. Dilma Rousseff speaks at the opening of the 15th IACC

that are least corrupt are known to be richer and more developed. Corruption does kill and cause death to living beings and therefore, it is a serious crime. It hinders economic development, robs national resources that belong to all citizens for the benefits of a few. It is an evil and a monster that need to be eradicated.

Who cares about corruption: People from around the world care about the problem and there is an increasing number of people’s movement from around the world who are standing up and fighting against corruption. The recent Arab Spring Revolution clearly shows that the people in some parts of the world no longer tolerate corruptions and they decided to bring changes and improve the situation.

Transparency International is the leading civil society organization in the fight against corruption with representative offices and active members in more than 100 countries spreading out in all different parts of the world. Inter-Governmental and bi-lateral organizations such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the United Nations and all major donors have been actively advocating for more transparency and accountability and place strict conditions in their financial loans and or donations for development of the country’s infrastructure and economy.

Most countries in the world have realized or been pressured to realize that corruption is one of the biggest challenges to development and growth. Most government have begun to take action to address the problem by adapting the anti-corruption laws, establishing the anti-corruption institutions and doing necessary reforms to prevent and reduce corruption or at least put the issue under control. Some countries are doing better than others in fighting corruption; some have genuine political will while some only have political show, the result of which are proved to be very different. Educated people can see the difference clearly while the less educated citizens might be confused because of the political ideologies relayed to them via the biased media.

Delegates and Activists particiate in the 15th IACC in Brasilia, Brazil.

Why Corruption Still Exist? If a lot of people and institutions care about corruption why does it still exist? The problem is because it is a tricky crime and often is done in the dark, under the table and are committed by powerful people who have power and necessary authorities to facilitate such corrupt acts to occur and prevent them from facing consequences and sanctions. The countries that lack the rules of laws and where the check and balance systems are weak are the countries with the most convenient avenue for corruptions to take place. In the countries where transparent and accountable systems are established and where the rules of laws are functioned, corruptions can hardly survive. It may still exist but in a much smaller scale and with high consequences.

Another reason is because there are too many people who do not believe that they can make a difference, they are just hopeless and become paralyzed by corruption. They don’t act enough to improve the situation and feel too scared to challenge the people with powers. They think by ignoring the issue they are freed from the negative impacts, but that is unfortunately not the case.

Because of this, we can say that both the corruptor and the people who suffer from corruption can be considered as being selfish. The corruptors are selfish because they want the most for their personal greed knowing that the national resources belong to everyone who should have a fair or equitable share of them. On the other hand, the people who literally choose to do nothing about it knowing that it is a big social problem are selfish because they want no consequence and don’t want to take risk. Unfortunately, corruption cause so much harms to people that nobody can escape from being the victim of it. It is just a matter of time, sooner or later, big or small, each one of us will suffer from it one day. This is not to exclude those who are corrupt. They too, or their family members will suffer from corruption they commit themselves. There is no exception.

What can we do to fight corruption? There are many ways we can do to fight against corruption. I’d like to make the following suggestions:

1. People: They are one of the most important agents of change who can make the ultimate difference. Speaking up against corruption or showing an attitude of not supporting corrupt officials are something people can do at the individual level. By showing that they are aware of corruption and they do not support such practices, the people can demand for changes in a democratic society. Refuse to pay a bribe at all times. Corruption takes two parties to be able to commit; the givers and the receivers. If the people have the courage to refuse to pay a bribe, the officials will change their behavior and habit for asking for a bribe. These officials are now aware that taking a bribe is illegal and they are subject to punishment by law. In fact the people who pay a bribe are also committing a crime and are subject to punishment. It’s time to stop paying a bribe.

The people should find ways to report corruption when they see or experience it. They can take part in the budget planning at the various levels of the government administrations, especially in the commune levels. They can ask for information on the budget expenditures and verify whether or not it is accurate. They can monitor the construction of the roads and development projects to see if the costs for such development are reasonable or not and to see if the contractors are in full compliance with the terms and conditions stated in the contract. There are many other things they can do.

They are encouraged to not vote for the corrupt officials or candidates because if these corrupt officials or candidates continue to receive votes or supports from them why would they care about changing their behavior or stop committing corruption. People do make mistakes and committing corruption is a serious mistake. They deserve a chance to make correction, that’s why some of the anti-corruption laws do not publish people who commit corruption in the past but only do to corruption cases that occur after the law has been adapted and come into effect. That is kind enough.

In such a case, people should not be naïve or ignorant not to know whether those who have made such a mistake have made correction or not. Each one has to be a smarter citizen in order to benefit from the government officials rather than to be the victims of their conducts. They are elected to serve the citizens and not to do harm to their livelihood.

Youth are the real force of changes and the hope for a better future. They need to be educated on the ethical values and morals so that they will not repeat the same practices of their previous generations’ leaders. Corruption means stealing or cheating that are clearly immoral and unethical. One of the root causes to corruption is that the moral and values have dropped significantly in Cambodia and that people give too much values on the materials and properties (materialistic). Many people go after money through any means and do not care whether what they are doing is ethical or not.

I see this as a very serious problem in Cambodia now and unfortunately there seem to be nobody doing anything to improve the moral issues. It seems like the society allows this immoral and unethical conducts to exist and let everyone accept it as a normal behavior and way of life. Why is that so? This is a shame especially most of our people are Buddhist, a religion that places morals and ethics on top of other human values.  What are the Buddhist monks and nuns are doing these days? Aren’t they supposed to educate people about these moral rules? I don’t think they do enough, especially they only reach out to elder people while the young populations and the youth are completely out of reach. How about the parents? Can they educate their children? Most of them seem to have violated these moral rules themselves so it is unrealistic to expect them to educate their children when they themselves are not in full compliance.

I think the Buddhist monks and nuns could do a lot more than what they can do these days. At the very least they should go to schools (primary, secondary and high schools to teach these morals). One or two hours per week would be a good start. This should be one of their mission and they should not just wait for people to come to the pagodas to listen to their Dhamma or wait till they get invitation from the people. That’s actually what Buddha did during his time. He reached out to people from places to places and spread the Dhamma and moral education. Why don’t the current monks and nuns are doing that? Isn’t it their mission? Or perhaps some of them are selfish too and do not care about this?

2. Civil Society Organization: Set good examples and comply with high standard of good governance, transparency and accountability. Promote these values of integrity and ethics within its own institutions and spread such educations to other institutions to do the same. Build coalition and work together with others to demand such a standard to be practiced in the public sector or the government administration. Do not pay a bribe and resist strongly when being asked to pay a bribe.

3. Media and Journalist: increase efforts, times and resources to expose corruption cases to the public and put pressure to the government to take zero tolerance towards the officials who commit corruptions. Impunity is heaven for the corruptors.

To make the cases stronger and more convincing, they need to do proper investigation and expose the cases with concrete evidences or references. The media and journalists play a very important role in the fight against corruption. Of course this involves a greater risk in a country such as Cambodia, so it takes extra courage and caution to do so. But without brave journalists it is an unfortunate lack of an important element of change.

4. Anti-Corruption Institution:  This institution has to be very well equipped with the human and financial resource, but most importantly it has to be independent from the executive power. Adequate power and authorities must be given to this institution and it has to be guaranteed in the legal framework. Facilities and mechanisms must be set to allow people to file complaints without fears. The complainants must be encouraged and well protected.

5. Political Institutions: Political parties must put fighting corruption on the top of their political platform and all members and activists must make sure that their party leaders uphold to their pledges to fight corruption in practice not just in paper. Young members of the parties (youth wings) who are the future leaders must make sure that their current generation leaders genuinely practice high standard of integrity and are fully accountable to their misconducts. The young people in Cambodia have a great chance because they comprise of the majority population in the country and are the sweetest voters. But they don’t really see their leverage and power and they don’t bother to advocate or demand for such a standard.

By reflecting all these aspects, it seems like we are all to be blamed if we dare to question ourselves whether or not we are responsible citizens. If we are not part of the solutions, we must be part of the problems we face these days. Think about it.

But it is not yet too late. Now it is very clear that people can make a difference. There are evidences in different parts of the world. Yes we can and together we will make a better society that is more transparent and accountable. We must restore integrity, morals and ethical values and put them higher than materials and wealth otherwise we will continue to suffer and not only that, we allow our future generations to suffer without a prospect ending. Don’t we know that we have an obligation to make the lives of our future generation better than us today? That is one of the best legacies we can leave for our children, grand children and our future generations.

Thank you for reading my long article. This article is written in Brasilia (Brazil) at 3:00 a.m (November 8, 2012). Written with love and care and by no mean to anger anyone. Please forgive me if it offenses you. I don’t have such an intention at all. Best wishes, Kol.

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