The Asian Development Bank’s multimillion-dollar Emergency Food Assistance Project, which has already been hit by complaints over its selection of beneficiaries, faced fresh criticism from a senior government official and human rights workers Monday.
The three-year, $40-million project, which started distributions last week in response to soaring food and agricultural input prices, intends to distribute rice to the poorest 20 percent of local farmers and vulnerable groups in 200 communes around the Tonle Sap lake.
However, Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said Monday that the ADB project had been implemented without properly gathering information about the people who would receive the rice.
Nhim Vanda said he had been informed that the ADB’s donated rice had been distributed to well-off families in four provinces, adding that he would send three officials to the provinces in the coming days to investigate how the distribution had been conducted.
The rice distribution should have been done “step by step” and not in just three days, he said during an informal presentation at his office announcing the start of his new drinking-water firm, Tada Bokor.
Nhim Vanda singled out for blame Finance Ministry Deputy Secretary-General Vong Sandap, the project’s national director.
Vong Sandap could not be reached for comment.
Kuong Kakada, Pursat province investigator for local rights group Licadho, said by telephone that there had been irregularities in the rice distribution in his province.
He said 220 villagers had protested at Tnort Chum commune office to complain about the unfair distribution of rice by the commune chief, who they said had selected family members and friends over poor households: “I saw that all the protesters were really poor because they wore old and torn clothes.”
ADB project implementation officer Long Piseth said it was too early to criticize the project, as rice distributions in three remaining provinces still had to be completed today and tomorrow.
Long Piseth agreed the project had been implemented a “little bit too fast” and said selection of beneficiaries could have been “far better” if there had been more time available to develop selection procedures, but he added that it was necessary to move quickly because it was now “hunger season.”
The project had so far received 33 complaints, most of which concerned the selection of beneficiaries, Long Piseth said, adding that there had been some cases where village chiefs had been accused of distributing rice unfairly.
Long Piseth said the ADB had expected the emergency intervention would draw criticism from those not selected to receive rice.
“That is why we set up the complaints hotline,” he said, adding that for this reason NGOs had also been asked to monitor the distribution locally.
If the complaints are justified, he added, households who have been left out will receive extra rice or be included in the project’s next phase, which consists of a food-for-work program and subsidized seed and fertilizer distributions.
Chuon Mao, 37, a villager from Tnort Chum commune’s Thmei village, said she had not received any rice despite being a landless widow with five children.
“My family is too poor, why could I not get it?” she said.