A portion of the government’s demobilization program is riddled with “ghost soldiers” who either do not exist or who have already died, leaving millions of dollars in international donor funding available for plunder by the government, with the World Bank’s knowledge, according to parliamentarian Son Chhay.
The Sam Rainsy Party politician discovered the ghost soldiers after obtaining a list last month from the government’s Cambodia Veterans’ Assistance Project that purports to name the soldiers in Siem Reap province who will receive cash and donations from the $42 million program in exchange for laying down their guns.
Fewer than 5 percent of the soldiers named for two communes, however, were found during a two-week search, Son Chhay said. The list included the commune and village of each soldier.
Son Chhay said the evidence of ghost soldiers is a sign that the government, which has already delayed the program numerous times, has been corrupt in its handling of donor money.
He accused World Bank officials of being aware of discrepancies in the program, but of choosing to ignore them.
The allegations come just as a delegation of senior World Bank officials have arrived in Cambodia to study the beleaguered program more closely.
The list covers Banteay Srei district of Siem Reap province. Son Chhay said a member of his staff searched for soldiers named on the list in Tbeng and Romcheak communes. Tbeng is supposed to have 245 soldiers ready for retirement; Son Chhay said they found seven. Romcheak lists 78 soldiers about to be demobilized, but staff found just three.
The World Bank representative for Cambodia, Bonaventure Mbdia-Essama, directed questions to Gillian Brown, a visiting World Bank official from Thailand. Efforts to reach Brown on Thursday were not successful.
The government’s director of the demobilization program, Svay Sitha, could not be reached for comment. Minister of Cabinet Sok An, who oversees the demobilization efforts, did not want to speak when contacted Thursday.