Health Ministry Promises Probe of New Allegations of Kickbacks

Health Minister Mam Bun Heng on Monday said his ministry will investigate recently reported allegations that senior medical staff, including the deputy directors of Phnom Penh hospitals, have been forced to pay kickbacks in order to receive long-delayed back pay.

Eleven ministry officials interviewed since Dec 21 have claimed they and nearly 200 others have been or are being required to pay 50 percent of their salary increases, which have accumulated over the last three years but only recently dispersed, resulting in kickbacks of thousands of dollars per person.

Mam Bun Heng said his ministry would seek an inquiry within the ministry.

“I am not clear on this case. I will ask for a report to find out the truth,” the minister said.

“Such a problem should not occur. It is the right of personnel to receive their pay raises. They should not force them to give kickbacks,” he said.

According to lists obtained Monday of promotions made since Aug 10, 2005 by former Funcinpec Health Minister Nuth Sokhom, 96 officials were promoted as departmental deputy directors and 95 others were made deputy directors of hospitals and medical centers in the capital.

In an interview on Monday, the deputy director of a Phnom Penh hospital said that at least 90 departmental deputy directors inside the Health Ministry had in October received 37 months’ back pay for their 2005 promotions, and that all had been forced to return 50 percent of it.

After being paid last week, another 90 deputy directors of Phnom Penh hospitals are now under pressure to pay kickbacks, added the deputy director, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Nuth Sokhom on Monday said he was unaware of any delay in salary increases being given to the people he had promoted in 2005.

“I am not clear about the delay and I would like to congratulate them on receiving their pay but I feel so disappointed to hear about kickbacks,” he said.

“I promoted them at the time to encourage them since they were working hard,” he said.

“I had no way to help them besides this promotion.”

Before pledging a record $1 billion in aid to Cambodia this month, donors in October again criticized the government’s slow progress toward adopting a 14-year-old draft anticorruption law.

The government announced in August that the law, which would authorize an independent anticorruption body to investigate allegations of impropriety, would be passed as a matter of urgency in the new government mandate.

The government maintains, however, that the law cannot be adopted before the adoption of a new 700-article draft penal code, whose articles are currently being reviewed

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