A newly elected opposition commune chief who allowed constituents to put a donation box in his office to fund commune services has found himself under fire by ruling party peers and higher-ups.
Sam Choeun, the CNRP chief of Phnom Penh’s Toul Sangke II commune, said the box, which was installed on Friday and removed two days later, was placed there by his constituents frustrated by a lack of state funding, and over his objections.
“I didn’t want to have it, but how could I stop villagers’ generosity?” he asked, adding that villagers had also donated three desks to the commune office. “The state budget is coming, but it takes too long.”
On Saturday, second deputy commune chief Uk Khema—who competed as the CPP’s top candidate in the June local elections—wrote a letter to Russei Keo district governor Chea Pisey about the box, saying Mr. Choeun had failed to discuss its installation with the full commune council.
“If I didn’t make a report then I might be under suspicion by villagers or upper levels over the money,” Mr. Khema said on Monday. “The Interior Ministry has a budget for supporting administrative work by the fee collection from villagers—for example, when they transfer land to other people.”
Mr. Pisey agreed. “I don’t want to take action right now, but the municipal authorities and Interior Ministry will consider it,” he said, adding that communes need to send documentation of spending or project proposals before they were granted a lump sum of state money.
“It looks like they did it for personal benefit.”
Mr. Choeun maintained this was not the case, saying he’d paid $220 of his own money to rent the office in the commune, which has been split from Toul Sangke commune since the last elections.
The commune clerk was preparing documents to apply for government funding, according to Mr. Choeun.
The commune council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the box, which had not received a single donation before it was taken down on Sunday, he added.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said in an email that collecting funds “is a legal fund raising method provided that the collected money is used for the intended cause and is managed transparently and accountably.”
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)
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