Ministry Finds $26.3 Million In Corruption

Six years after its creation, the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection released its first inspection report on Tuesday, detailing nine cases of past government corruption that cost the treasury $26.3 million.

The ministry’s “Report for Pre­vious Years and 2005 Plans,” which was to be produced each year, has been delayed because of lack of resources at the ministry, which was established in 1999, said Minister Men Sam An at the ministry’s annual meeting Tues­day.

According to the report, the min­­­istry has received 53 complaints since its creation and ad­dres­sed nine of the cases it investigated.

These included asking several provincial offices of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to repay the state more than $180,000 earned through fake documents that fabricated disabilities and deaths; stopping the “abnormal expenditure” of $1.4 million on fake disabilities and deaths in 11 prov­inces; and asking the Ministry of Public Works and Transport office in Banteay Mean­chey province to repay $113,622 for an unexplained incident.

The report said the Ministry ask­ed an unknown phone com­pa­ny to repay the government 20 percent of its profits, worth about $1.7 million, and stated that the Thai-owned Shinawatra company owed the government more than $133,000. It did not state why.

The Ministry also asked un­spe­ci­fied telephone companies, state ministries and clients to pay $20.3 million to the state, the re­port said. It did not elaborate why that mo­ney was owed.

The report also cited $34,000 lost in a Neak Leoung ferry fee scam, a $2.3-million debt by the Fisheries Department on fishing lots, and more than $126,000 in ir­regularities over the lease of state property by the Fisheries Depart­ment. It did not give details about these scams and irregularities.

“Our ministry has the strong will to fight [corruption] with a peace­ful strategy,” Men Sam An said at the meeting.

The report, however, did not include the $900,000 rice fraud un­covered by the World Food Pro­­gram in 2004 or a $2 million ir­re­gu­larity in a military demobilization program discovered by the World Bank in 2003.

Men Sam An also announ­ced that the Anti-Corruption Law, de­layed since 2002, will not be submitted to the Council of Mini­s­ters for review this month as planned, but will undergo further study by the Inspection Ministry until 2006.

During the meeting, she thank­ed Prime Minister Hun Sen for helping the ministry secure a new headquarters in Tonle Bassac com­mune, which she said would be three-stories tall and will be completed in early 2006.

No mention, however, was made of the specifics of the government’s much criticized deal with New Hope Co Ltd to build the new ministry building in ex­change for a parcel of public land that was used as a park. Critics of the deal have said that it was not made in a transparent manner.

Addressing the meeting, Hun Sen warned government inspectors not to seek bribes, as they did in the 1980s.

“I have asked [Fi­nance Ministry Secretary of State] Ouk Rabun to check up on the financial officers who go down to inspect public en­terprises such as the port and rubber plantations,” he said. “This group was not normal…some day I will hit them.”

Contacted after the meeting on Tuesday, Post and Telecom­mu­ni­cations Minister So Khun said the In­spection Ministry’s report about graft involving the telephone companies was incorrect.

“It is a wrong report,” he said. “The debt is not as much as the ministry reported.”

Nao Thouk, director the Fish­er­ies Department, also downplayed the Inspection Ministry’s findings, saying that most of the missing fishing money was lost to the Khmer Rouge in 1994.

“The Khmer Rouge took 50 percent of fishing-lot income from fishing-lot owners,” he said.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said the Inspection Minis­try’s report leaves vast areas unexplored.

“What about all the money lost to illegal logging?” he said. “The Ministry of Defense’s procurement contracts have long been suspected of embezzlement, we have reason to believe that up to half of the Ministry of Interior’s budget is either pocketed or disappears in overpriced purcha­ses…. The government is not serious about fighting corruption. “

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