ACU Urges Tighter Health Ministry Practices

The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has written to Health Minister Mam Bunheng to say that his ministry is failing to follow required procurement procedures and to urge him to bring its practices in line.

In the letter to Mr. Bunheng, dated Monday, ACU Chairman Om Yentieng said his officials had observed the ministry’s procurement committee through a number of bids this year and last, and noticed some mistakes.

Among the ACU’s main concerns, the letter said, was the committee’s practice of considering bids from companies that appeared to have fake addresses. It said the listed addresses of some of the firms led to abandoned and locked apartments with no company signage, some with “for sale” signs.

The ACU faulted the committee for considering firms “without clearly examining, evaluating and verifying their credentials, especially the locations of the companies, in advance.”

The letter does not say whether any of those firms won bids. It does, however, note that the committee awarded contracts to two companies, MCT Industry and America Indochina, that failed to make the requisite deposits to secure their bids.

“The ACU thinks that the Health Ministry should strengthen the points noted above to make future bids go smoothly,” the letter said.

ACU officials could not be reached for comment. Neither Mr. Bunheng nor Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann could be reached, either.

The ministry has been involved in one of the most well-documented cases of corruption involving public procurement in recent years.

In 2013, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria released the results of a yearslong investigation that found that the previous head of the ministry’s National Malaria Center, Duong Socheat, and other health officials had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to manipulate some $12 million worth of Global Fund contracts.

The ACU claims that it cannot secure convictions against any of the officials, even though the ACU has no legal right to make such decisions, and despite emails provided by the Global Fund in which Mr. Socheat instructed company officials to deposit the bribes into fake accounts.

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