Cambodian Journalism Review

‘Accountability’ Has Real Meaning in a Thriving Democracy

‘Accountability’ Has Real Meaning in a Thriving Democracy

by Moeun Chhean Nariddh

The Cambodia Daily, December 2, 2010, page 34



t was very interesting to read in yesterday’s front page article (“Accountability New to Khmer Political Lexicon”)  about the word “Accountability” concerning the recent stampede in Cambodia, which killed hundreds of young Cambodian men and women.

There are two ways to study the words in terms of semantics and pragmatics.

In terms of semantics, we can look at the “direct meaning” of the word “accountability,” which has been translated as “Keak’nak’neyeak’pheap,” or the state of being accountable, in Khmer.

Yet, not many ordinary Cambodians would understand what this word means except for people who work in the governance and development field. They might think it is just an academic term derived from the word “Accounting,” or “Keak’nak’ney.”

In this sense, people who read Khmer and come across this term must get the meaning of the word pragmatically by finding out what it “intends to say.”

By looking at the supposed meaning of the word, it will lead them to another synonym of the word accountability, ie “responsibility,” or “Kar’totuol’khoh’trov” in Khmer.

For this second term, Cambodian people can clearly understand what the word means or intends to say in Khmer, both semantically or pragmatically.

Literally, the word “Kar’totuol’khoh’trov” is translated as “the state of accepting what is wrong and right.”

Nonetheless, the word “responsibility” has been widely manipulated according to the hierarchy of the society whether it is in a family or political context.

There have been jokes about either parents or officials who would only “accept what is right” from the word “the state of accepting what is wrong and right” in Khmer.

A common joke is told about a father who always blames his son for whatever mistakes he himself makes.

One day, the father happened to kick and break a glass of water his son had placed on the floor in the middle of the house.

“How stupid of you to put the water glass in the middle of the house!” the father would scold his son.

On another day, he happened to put a glass of water at the same spot in the middle of the house and the son happened to kick and break it without realizing it was there.

“Are you blind and didn’t see the glass?” the father would scold the son again, ignoring his own mistake.

Whether it is between a father and son or between the rulers and the people, this lack of culture of responsibility has dominated the Cambodian society for centuries.

However, for democracy to flourish in the long run, Cambodia needs to nourish and strengthen the culture of accountability by holding people responsible for serious mistakes they have made.


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