Commission Grills Health Minister Over Claims of Corruption

Health Minister Mam Bunheng was questioned Friday by the National Assembly’s anti-corruption commission over numerous complaints made against the ministry for alleged corruption, as opposition lawmaker and head of the commission Ho Vann called for safeguards to protect whistle-blowers.

Mr. Bunheng was summoned on March 30 to address a number of issues before the commission, including swapping valuable municipal land and hospital buildings, overcharging for medication, and his handling of an outbreak of HIV in Battambang province. 

After the meeting, Mr. Bunheng said National Assembly members offered their ideas on how best to improve frailties within the Health Ministry to create a better health service.

“We need to review the technical and administrative requirements for…health departments to promote a better service,” he said, in response to a reporter’s question about why the ministry had swapped hospital buildings and the land they sat on with private companies for less valuable land.

Regarding his handling of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Roka commune, Mr. Bunheng said a new hospital would be built as part of a long-term plan to assist those infected with the virus, explaining that recent deaths—five so far—were due to the elderliness and poverty of the victims.

At the top of the meeting’s agenda, however, was the 2013 report by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which investigated the ministry’s use of its funds and found evidence of soliciting of bribes in the awarding of contracts, including almost $500,000 from a mosquito net program.

Mr. Vann said the ministry must be held to account, as the government was compelled to pay back misspent money from the Global Fund out of state coffers.

“The evidence of corruption is there, so we want the ministry to provide us its internal audit including all the internal documents, because is not acceptable for them to take money from the state budget to repay the funds,” he said, adding that paying back the Global Fund was an admission of guilt.

The opposition lawmaker also said it was time to introduce mechanisms to protect those who were brave enough to report corruption.

“Please, [the ministry] must not take revenge on the people who come forward with information, whether it is about the cost of medicine or swapping hospitals as it will prevent people from giving information in the future,” he said.

For the municipal department of health, the commission said it would take action to create a safer environment for staff to report corruption.

“We will deploy 87 people at important hospitals around Phnom Penh,” Mr. Vann said.

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