Officials Claim ‘Irregularity’ in Gov’t Rice Deal

Officials from Kampot prov­ince’s Agriculture Depart­ment have charged that irregularities took place in a Fi­nance Ministry contract worth more than $25,000 to procure seed rice from a company with no known offices or telephone numbers.

The Ministry of Finance signed an agreement on Dec 30, 2004, certifying that it accepted seed rice from Nita Trading Import Export Co, according to a copy of the agreement obtained late last week.

The document stated that the rice was intended for the people of Kampot province who suffered from drought that year.

But Keo Neang, deputy director of Kampot’s Department of Agriculture said Monday that he never received any of that rice.

“Four months have passed. We have not seen the rice yet,” he said.

Contacted Monday, Kampot Governor Puth Chandarith denied there was any corruption involved in the deal. He said the only problem lay with the seed rice provided by Nita Trading, which he said did not meet the standards required by the Department of Agriculture.

“I order the company to provide seed rice according to the [normal procedure] required,” he said.

Puth Chandarith said the Ministry of Finance will not pay Nita Trading until all the rice has been received.

But according to a separate document obtained last week, the Ministry of Finance issued a “draw money mandate”, similar to a cheque, granting Nita Trading a payment of $25,556 for 70,500 kg of seed rice.

Keo Neang said customary procurement procedure would see the Finance Ministry paying the company after a sample of the rice has been tested, and all of the rice distributed to the department.

He said Nita sent his department only one pack of seed rice for a test.

An agriculture department official, who declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal from his employers, said “I want to cancel the contract.”

“When I tested the seed rice, it grew only 50 percent, so I refused again,” the official said.

Director of Kampot’s Agriculture Department Khim Sokha, whose name was listed as one of the parties who accepted the rice, said he, too, had only received a test pack. But, he said, the company has more than 50 tons of seed rice in stock.

“The company has just given us a sample to check,” he said on Monday.

Nita Trading is not listed in the phone book, nor in an official list of companies from the  Ministry of Commerce. Commodities tycoon, Oknha Mong Reththy, the president of Mong Reththy group, said on Monday that he has never heard of the company.

A Ministry of Commerce official said the address for Nita Trading is listed as “Bati,” which is a district in Takeo province. He did not have a street or office number.

The Commercial official did provide the address of two companies, Ly Construction and Sonita, listed as bidders in the procurement deal. However, the buildings at these addresses housed a catering business for weddings and a private home belonging to a former school master.

According to the bidding document dated November 2004, Nita Trading offered to provide seed rice for $25,563, while the other companies offered $25,820 and $26,085.



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