The Cambodian government's new headquarters.  Palatial.  There are private palaces too.

The Cambodian government’s new headquarters. Palatial. There are private palaces too.


        Why am I so upset, offended by the corruption in Cambodia?   Corruption is alive and well in Vietnam and Laos, from which we’ve just come.  And my own country, though generally free of the petty bribes common here, runs on money and influence peddling on a huge scale.

So what is it about Cambodia?

First, I think it’s that corruption has a face here.    In Hanoi, banners glorify the anniversary of the Communist Party.  The Party is honored but the only person whose likeness we see is that of Ho Chi Minh, who is safely dead and incorruptible. His body lies embalmed in the mausoleum, his sayings adorn the city and his reputation is carefully guarded.

Cambodia is different.  It is a “multi party” system, but one party has a stranglehold, the Cambodian People’s Party headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.  Billboards throughout the country show Hun Sen flanked by Cheam Sim (President of the Senate) and Heng Samrin (President of the National Assembly).

These men, their families and cronies, have accumulated massive wealth, much of it through expropriation of massive tracts of land and natural resources.    An old hand describes the government as “venal and rapacious”.

I wonder whether Forbes includes them in their list of the richest men in the world.   If I were a political cartoonist, I would draw them as three fish lurking near the surface of a muddy pond, waiting to swallow anything that falls in.  But if I drew this in Cambodia, I’d be put in prison and very possibly killed.

The second reason I feel so offended is that the country has already suffered so much.  And now it suffers again at the hands of leaders, most of whom were part of the Khmer Rouge.  Nicholas Shakespeare writes in The Economist (reprinted in The Cambodia Daily of January 26-27, 2013):  “Those who formerly presided over the suicide of a nation are now selling it to the highest bidder.”