Gov’t Parries World Bank’s Graft Charge

In response to a news report that the World Bank has threatened to withhold aid to Cam­bo­dia, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ad­viser Om Yentieng on Sunday re­quested that the Bank provide evidence of government corruption in an abandoned Bank-sponsored project to assist demobilized soldiers.

“We welcome the World Bank to provide us with evidence so we can take action,” Om Yentieng said by telephone.

“There should be exact evidence, but now there is only just suspicions,” he said.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that the World Bank was threatening to suspend millions of dollars in assistance to the country unless the government repays $2.7 million intended for the procurement of motorbikes for former soldiers.

The Bank halted the $18.4 million demobilization project in June 2003 after it declared mis­pro­­cure­ment on a $6.9 million contract to provide motorbikes.

The World Bank has since de­barred four companies and five individuals for fraud, including  China-based Jianmen Zhongyu Motor Group Co Ltd, and Phnom Penh-based Cambodia Royal Auto Penh Manufacturing Co Ltd—both of which had been awarded contracts to provide the motorbikes. According to the AP, the Bank’s vice-president for East Asia and the Pacific, Jemal-ud-din Kassum, wrote a letter to Hun Sen dated Jan 11, warning: “If urgent steps are not taken to resolve these iss­ues, we will be obliged to suspend disbursements on the whole of the World Bank’s portfolio in Cambo­dia” starting Feb 15.

In a second letter, also dated Jan 11, addressed to Finance Min­­ister Keat Chhon, the Bank’s Cambo­dia director, Ian Porter, de­manded that the government re­fund the money “without further delay,” the AP reported.

Om Yentieng said Sunday that he has not seen the letters but was concerned about report that the Bank could freeze aid.

“It will first affect the poor people because we are a poor country,” he said.

Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that the World Bank should not blame the government “since the World Bank bought the motorbikes themselves.”

World Bank communications specialist Bou Sarouen said he could not provide immediate com­ment on Sunday.

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