Gov’t Investigations In ’98, ’99 ‘Useless’
Since mid-February, Electricite du Cambodge has been tainted by such revelations as the alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of electricity and an outstanding debt of $15 million owed by officials and government institutions.
But at least two previous attempts to uncover problems at the troubled EdC foundered in 1998 and 1999, officials say, because some government investigators took bribes from the government electric company.
Phon Sophal, director of inspection at the Ministry of Parliamentary Relations and Inspection, which now is investigating EdC, said the two previous teams of inspectors produced “useless’’ reports that found no wrongdoing.
“The inspectors received bribes from EdC so the results were fruitless,’’ he said in an interview this week. “The Ministry of Inspection is anti-corruption, but, truly, [some of these] officials are corrupt.’’
EdC officials denied the allegations this week. “I did not have money for [the investigators],’’ said Tan Kim Vinn, director general of the EdC. “Maybe [the person] who said this is wrong.’’
The corrupt inspectors have been fired, said Khau Meng Hean, secretary of state for the Ministry of Inspection. He said the two teams of investigators included “bad men.’’
Ty Hok, undersecretary of state of the Ministry of Inspection, also was harshly critical of the investigators. ‘’These people, whenever they go to do an investigation, they always find nothing but take money.’’
One inspector who took part in the 1999 investigation, and who did not want his name used but who still works for the Ministry of Inspection, said the two investigations unfolded somewhat differently.
In 1999, he said, a four-man team produced a report condemning EdC officials, but the team leader rewrote it to clear the EdC of culpability.
In 1998, he said, a five-man team of investigators, led by Eang Sunly, fought each other over the bribe money. He said EdC officials ultimately paid them about $500 apiece to drop the investigation.
Eang Sunly said Thursday that he absolutely did not accept $500 in bribes from EdC, though he did take “a little bit’’ of gas money, as did the rest of his crew.
“Ten or $20 was given’’ to inspectors for petrol, he said. “It is not a corruption thing. You know in our society [it] is like that …Cambodian people think about the law less’’ than about sentiment and relationships between people. “I do not make myself dirty by that amount of money.”
He said any squabbling among the members of his crew was not over bribe money, but because they were jealous of each other and fighting for position within the poorly managed ministry.
Eang Sunly said it is true he no longer works at the Ministry of Inspection, but that his change of job had nothing to do with any criticism of his work. He said he was transferred to the Ministry of Finance in late 1998, after the formation of the new coalition government.
He said some critics are simply jealous because he has a car and a good income, due to a second job teaching at a private school.
EdC has come under fire recently for a rash of problems, including:
• The alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of electricity by three employees of the Chea Rithy Import Export Co, who are accused of reselling about $20,000 worth of state electricity each month. Police also submitted arrest warrants for two EdC officials but they have yet to be arrested.
• An outstanding debt of nearly $15.8 million, mostly owed by officials and government institutions who have delayed making payments, sometimes for years. The Asian Development Bank and World Bank recently urged EdC to collect that debt in order for Cambodia to receive nearly $100 million of loans for electricity projects.
• Recurrent power failures last month for up to 30 percent of Phnom Penh customers, because EdC’s petroleum supplier ran out of fuel.