Ministry of Finance Urges Press Silence

The Ministry of Finance re­quested Wednes­day that newspapers cease reporting corruption allegations against the ministry to allow its own officials to decide whether the awarding of a million-dollar government contract was in line with the ministry’s “norms and procedures.”

Billed as “an announcement,” the Finance Ministry stated that inspectors are currently auditing the awarding of the $1.3 million contract to supply Customs and Ex­cise Department uniforms, and newspapers should “stay quiet” until the audit was completed.

“Ministry’s leaders will review and decide about this bid when the audit is finished. Therefore, would newspapers please keep quiet and allow ministry officials to review and decide, based on the procedures and the law,” the ministry document stated.

Ek Vireak Deth, a member of the auditing team, said Wednes­day that the investigation into claims of bid-rigging in the uniform contract has been completed and a report was to be given to Finance Minister Keat Chhon on Wednesday evening.

Ek Vireak Deth said he could not comment on the results of the investigation.

Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce President Sok Kong, who is also the president of the powerful Sokimex petroleum company which has strong links to the ruling CPP, took up the case last week of several companies who allege they were blocked from lodging more competitive bids to supply the uniforms.

Demanding that ministry officials be punished, Sok Kong alleged in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday that a group was conspiring inside the Finance Ministry to fix bids at inflated prices.

Khieu Kanharith, CPP spokesman and Information Ministry secretary of state, said on Wednesday that the Finance Ministry was not trying to muzzle media scrutiny of scandal allegations at the CPP-dominated Finance Ministry.

Speculation was building around the allegations of bid fixing, and some may try to politicize the allegations or use them to benefit their own careers, Khieu Kanharith said.

“Some may try to politicize the issue to include everyone in the [ministry]. This will damage the credibility of some people who could be in government in the future,” he said.

Editors have been asked to refrain from reporting until after the audit, but if the ministry’s self-audit does not appear credible, then newspapers “can go ahead,” Khieu Kanharith said.

The ministry’s “announcement” to newspapers has no legal basis, he added.

Finance Ministry Secretary of State Ngy Tayi said on Wednesday that Keat Chhon, who ordered the allegations investigated last week, was awaiting on the audit to report to Hun Sen

Chief among the complaints against the ministry are claims that those responsible for the procurement failed to adequately publicize that bids were being accepted to supply the uniforms.

The advertisement that did appear was placed in an edition of a local newspaper, Kampuchea Thmey Daily, just two days before the bid deadline, but did not carry a reference code, address or telephone number of the department handling the procurement.

Khout Sakhon, the Finance Ministry’s Administration Department Chief whose name and signature appeared on the contentious bid advertisement, said on Wednesday he knew nothing about the procurement.

“I’m just the administrator,” said Khout Sakhon, adding that it was the Finance Ministry cabinet who oversaw the deal.

Asian Development Bank Country Representative Urooj Malik said on Wednesday that the bank, and donors in general, would be interested in seeing allegations of mishandling of public sector funds resolved.

 

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