CMAC Sold UN-Donated Vehicles to MPs

Cambodia’s largest demining agency bypassed higher bidders and sold at least 10 UN-donated vehicles to members of the National Assembly in 1997 without proper authorization, according to a recently released international audit.

The day after the sale—which included between 12 and 16 additional trucks and Jeeps—some of the vehicles were resold for profit, auditors say. One of the buyers lives across the street from CMAC and paid more than twice the amount CMAC received from the National Assembly the day before, the audit states.

The vehicles were sold in 1997, even though the National Assem­bly submitted their bids to CMAC after the bidding period had been officially closed, and some members of a CMAC procurement committee objected. CMAC sold the vehicles for prices lower than those offered by others vying for the right to buy them, the audit states.

“Those who acted contrary to procedure must face the law,” Man Nick, a Finance Ministry investigator, said Monday, add­ing that those who purchased the vehicles will likely have to pay back taxes.

CMAC officials denied wrongdoing Monday. But the revelations are only one more instance giving the appearance of a pattern unorthodox operating procedures that have combined to shake donor confidence in the agency.

CMAC receives more foreign funding than any other government run agency, and is tasked with removing the millions of land mines that continue to maim and kill scores of innocent Cambodians each month.

Niem Chouleng, CMAC’s assistant director general and the chairman of the committee that oversaw the vehicle sales, said they were sold to the “cabinet of the National Assembly.’’ He added that Oum Sarith, the chairman of the cabinet, was the one who ar­ranged the deal. Oum Sarith is a top adviser to CPP President and Senate Chairman Chea Sim, who in 1997 was the president of the Assembly.

“They needed vehicles to go to many different areas everywhere before the election,’’ Niem Chou­leng explained.

Niem Chouleng acknowledged that the bid was lower than some offered. But he said other bidders wanted to buy some vehicles, and Oum Sarith agreed to a package deal.

“Some people wanted to buy only one or two, and we said it was not possible,’’ he said, explaining that the vehicles were so decrepit it was not cost effective for CMAC to maintain them. The money helped fund a CMAC facility in Kompong Chhnang, he said.

Niem Chouleng said 29 vehicles were sold at a cost of $83,300, or approximately $3,000 each. At least 10 of the vehicles were donated to the government by Untac on Nov 30, 1993.

Oum Sarith said CMAC advertised in the newspaper and that many of the cars were good only for spare parts. He acknowledged that some were resold, but he said that the National Assembly cabinet paid all the proper taxes.

“If CMAC or the Ministry of Finance wants to verify they can check,’’ he said. “If they want to buy the vehicles back, they can. I proceeded according to the law.’’               The vehicle revelations, combined with suggestions that CMAC vehicles were misused by officials within the agency, and that thousands of dollars from the royal government were misappropriated, prompted the Ministry of Finance to take action last week.

A Ministry of Finance directive ordered CMAC to reimburse the government for $75,000 in misappropriated funds, collect thousands of dollars in back taxes owed for the sale of the used vehicles, and “add to the government inventory,” three Land Cruisers, and a Lexus used by CMAC Chairman Ieng Mouly.

The government will allow CMAC to continue to use the Land Cruisers and a Lexus, instead of repossessing them, as the Cambodia Daily incorrectly stated in an article Friday.

The vehicles must be added to an official inventory so that it is clear that “they are owned by CMAC rather than by individuals,’’ Man Nick said Monday.

“Previously, some people have been using CMAC vehicles for their own advantage,’’ he said.

The Cambodia Daily obtained a copy of the letter which stated that the vehicles “must be entered into the government inventory.”

When asked about the directive Thursday, Ieng Mouly stressed the vehicles were used only for official purposes, adding that “it is no problem. CMAC has many cars, so there is no shortage.’’

Several Ministry of Finance officials declined to discuss the letter, referring questions to Finance Minister Keat Chhon. Keat Chhon could not be reached for comment.

The government never intended to repossess them, Man Nick said Monday. “The inventory needs to be done to revise the list of what we have received in order to control it effectively,’’ Man Nick said. (Additional reporting by Im Sophea)


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