As much as $200,000 earmarked for disabled veterans in Kompong Cham province was embezzled by the provincial social affairs department last year, officials said this week.
In the wake of a protest Monday by 96 disabled veterans in front of the National Assembly demanding disability payments they say were owed them, Kompong Cham Provincial Governor Hun Neng confirmed that the funds had been diverted by local officials.
“What the veterans came to protest is right. Because the people asked and I investigated: The social work director embezzled a lot of money for himself,” Hun Neng, who is a brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Wednesday.
Both Hun Neng and veterans said the funds had been distributed only in three of Kompong Cham’s 16 districts.
Hun Neng said that out of the province’s 1,823 disabled veterans, only 368 had received payments, though payment for all of the veterans was released.
Provincial Director of Social Affairs Khem Chan Phal has been fired in an investigation of the case, said Hun Neng, who promised to follow in the steps of his brother, the prime minister, and stamp out such corruption with an “iron fist.”
“I start to have an iron fist and I reported this to Prime Minister Hun Sen already. In my province, I found out all this scandal, and I think it is the same situation in the other provinces,” Hun Neng said.
Khem Chan Phal did not answer repeated phone calls on Thursday.
Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng repeatedly hung up when reporters called.
Veteran Ou Bunthai, 41, from Kompong Cham’s Kompong Siem district, said this week marked his fifth time protesting to demand his payment of around $200, which he said would be enough to help him start a small motorbike repair shop.
“We are all disabled soldiers, military and former police. We came to ask the government for money,” he said. “They promised to address this issue, but so far they did nothing.”
Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San, who is in charge of receiving complaints at the Assembly, spoke with the veterans this week and said he would pursue the matter with the Ministry of Social Affairs.
“These are all veterans from the war and now we don’t pay them on time. It is their right,” he said.