Gov’t Says It Will Probe Use Of Bank Funds

The government’s National Aud­it Authority will investigate the misuse of World Bank funds in seven major development projects following the freezing of funds to Bank-funded projects worth $64.5 million at four government ministries.

“The Auditing Authority will in­vestigate the use of World Bank funds and it will start soon with co­operation from World Bank,” Ut Chhorn, chairman of the Na­tional Audit Authority, said Monday.

“Now we are working on auditing an [Asian Development Bank] loan for a rural road project but the results have not come out yet,” he said.

Under pressure from the World Bank, Finance Minister Keat Chhon on May 22 froze funding for three projects: the Ministry of Land Management’s $24.3 million land management and administration project, the ministries of Rural Development and Public Works’ $20 million rural infrastructure project and the Ministry of Industry’s $19.9 million provincial and peri-urban water and sanitation project.

World Bank External Affairs Of­ficer Kimberly Versak wrote late Mon­day that she was working on a response to requests for more de­tails of its allegations of misprocurement and misuse of funds in a total of seven projects administered by the government.

The World Bank has not re­leased the names of the companies, contracts or officials in­volved in the scandal.

Cheam Yeap, CPP lawmaker and chairman of the National Assembly’s Banking and Finance Commission, said that government of­ficials found guilty of wrongdoing would be prosecuted and that World Bank consultants must also be held accountable.

“If the auditing authority finds embezzlement or misuse of funds, they must be punished under the pe­nal code by imprisonment,” Cheam Yeap said.

“This time, no more forgiveness,” he said, noting that the World Bank must also make public any wrongdoing committed by its own consultants.

“The World Bank consultants that oversee Cambodians for these projects…they cannot es­cape responsibility,” he added.

On Sunday, Minister of Rural De­­velopment Lu Laysreng blamed an unnamed World Bank consultant for the problems that have embroiled his ministry.

Chhieng Yanara, the Council for the Development of Cambodia dep­uty secretary-general in charge of coordinating donor aid, de­­clined to comment on the World Bank affair. Prak Sokhon, Council of Min­isters secretary of state, said he was not aware of the problem. Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kan­ha­rith declined comment, saying he was in Malaysia.

Details of the scandal must be re­leased to the public and real action must be taken against those re­sponsible, said Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker and National As­sembly Foreign Affairs Com­mis­sion Chairman Son Chhay.

“At least these three or four ministries should be thoroughly investigated and officials prosecuted. So far there has been a lot of talk but little action,” Son Chhay said.

“In Vietnam they take getting money from the World Bank and other donors seriously,” he said.  “I have looked at how they are spending the money and they put it to better use, they use it to help their people. The Cambodian government is more corrupt.”

Son Chhay also called for full disclosure from the World Bank on the details of its investigation into the seven projects.

“[The World Bank] used to say that they want to get the public in­volved more,” Son Chhay said. “We are the parliament and our du­ty is to monitor the government. We need more information.”

Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said she had little faith that the National Audit Authority would conduct a proper investigation into the affair. She said she could not recall any officials ever being prosecuted for cor­ruption.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s so-called “iron fist” campaign against judicial corruption led to a guilty verdict for several court officials in December, but they were all subsequently retried this year and ac­quitted.

“Someone needs to be prosecuted [for corruption]. Then maybe these officials would think twice or be more restrained,” she said.

One foreign diplomat said on condition of anonymity that the World Bank allegations could have a major impact on Cambo­dia’s dealings with donors.

“Already they have triggered inquiries in the programs of other donors. The Finance Ministry and other ministries are under a lot of pressure now from the Bank,” the diplomat said.

“[We are] concerned about our own programs and are checking them,” he added.

Previously, the World Bank iden­tified misprocurement in a mili­tary demobilization project in July 2003. The government was forced to repay $2.8 million to the Bank, and the program to trim the nation’s bloated troop ranks was halted.

In September 2005, the Bank an­nounced that it suspected fraud and collusion in four other projects, though Bank officials re­leased scant details to the public.

 

 

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