Pharmacy Sting Put on Hold

The Ministry of Health has put off a crackdown on about 600 un­licensed pharmacies in Phnom Penh until a new government is el­ected, health officials said Monday.

Dr Veng Thai, municipal health director, said this government does not have the political weight or will to crack down on pharmacies, some of which allegedly sell expired or smuggled drugs.

“I hope a new government will be strong enough to close illegal pharmacies or change those pharmacies to be legal,” he said, “because the municipality doesn’t see any problem with them.”

The Ministry of Health has tried to engineer two crackdowns since last year, both of which met resistance from CPP-aligned municipal authorities after a few closures. Ministry of Health officials in charge of past crackdowns have been Funcinpec members.

The first crackdown failed after municipal officials claimed the correct government authorities— including the ministries of Justice and Interior—had not been in­volved, officials have said. The second crackdown failed when the city defended owners of pharmacies which were ordered closed, saying they were losing their livelihood.

The National Assembly in 1996 passed a law permitting the Min­istry of Health to inspect and li­cense pharmacies. But health officials say most of Phnom Penh’s 700 pharmacies predate the law, making regulation difficult.

“It is too difficult to crack down on them because the law of pharmacies and policy on drugs was created after the pharmacies opened,” said Chou Yinsim, dir­ector of pharmacies and drugs for the Ministry of Health.

One pharmacy owner said she tried to apply for a license, but a ministry worker extorted her.

“I had to spend $400 on the low-level officials doing the paperwork for me,” said the pharmacy owner, who asked not to be identified. “But in the end, I did not get a license.”

“I need the exact business laws to be issued by the Ministry of Health,” the vendor said. “I don’t mind paying their tax if they provide me with the correct license.”

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