Chamber of Commerce Accuses Gov’t of Graft

The Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce has written to Prime Minister Hun Sen alleging corruption in the allocation of procurement contracts by the Min­istry of Finance, the latest twist in controversy surrounding a $1.3 million deal to supply the government with uniforms for customs officials.

Chamber of Commerce Presi­dent Sok Kong, who is also the president of the Sokimex petroleum company, which has strong links to the ruling CPP, made the allegations against the Finance Ministry’s procurement process in a letter to Hun Sen dated Friday.

Writing on behalf of several companies that alleged last week that the Finance Ministry prevented the fielding of proper bids for the uniform contract, Sok Kong alleged that bid fixing was being organized by “a network” at the ministry.

Sok Kong suggested that Hun Sen ensure that the Finance Ministry reopens the uniform contract to competitive bidding and ensure that future procurement is done in accordance with public purchasing procedures.

“Please, seriously punish persons who are related to the conspiracy in the bidding work that is contrary to the policy of the government,” he added.

Sok Kong also claimed that Hun Sen was notified in March of previous impropriety in the Finance Ministry’s procurement process, but the prime minister had not yet solved the problem.

“But until now we still see no pos­itive result in preparing measures to curb abnormalities in the public purchasing unit of the Min­istry of Economy and Finance,” Sok Kong wrote.

“The serious wrongdoing…at the Ministry of Economy and Finance is a major problem that affects the national interest and the government policy, especially as it makes the business community very disappointed,” he added.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who has ordered an inves­tigation of the bid-fixing allegations, could not be reached for comment Mon­­day.

“We haven’t discussed this issue yet, we were busy organizing the opening ceremony of a school,” said Finance Ministry Undersecretary of State Ngy Tayi, who accompanied Keat Chhon to Kratie province on Monday for the opening of a Hun Sen-built school.

“Now the minister has come back to town, he will be responsible for this issue,” he added.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Monday that the prime minister has ordered Keat Chhon to explain the details of the bid.

“Usually Keat Chhon must write a report before we can order and target where to investigate,” Khieu Kanharith said.

A foreign diplomat said Monday that the spat between the Sokimex president, a longtime close associate of Hun Sen, and the Finance Ministry, a bastion of senior CPP officialdom, was “very curious. Quite surprising.”

Sorn Sokna, vice president of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce and also Sokimex’s vice president, was unequivocal in his criticism of the Finance Ministry on Monday.

“I knew about their mosquito net tenders,” said Sorn Sokna, using a Khmer-language phrase to describe the process in which competitive bids are kept out of the tendering process.

Patt Serey, owner of SNL Im­port Export Co Ltd—one of the companies alleging they were elbowed out of the tender—said on Friday he could slash the

$1.3 million price for the uniforms down to $700,000.

According to documents related to the uniform procurement, a set of uniforms will be supplied to each of the country’s 1,540 customs officers and 1,225 tax officials for $1.3 million.

At around $470 for each set of uniforms, clothing for the customs and tax officials will cost close to the yearly salary of most other civil servants and a little short of twice the per capita income of the country’s estimated 12 million population.

Each year, Customs and Excise Department staff are provided with a set of uniforms—that,  among other garments, includes shoes, socks, belts, long- and short-sleeved sweaters and raincoats, a government official said.


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