Finance Minister Keat Chhon has ordered the Ministry of Rural Development and Takeo provincial authorities to punish officials involved in the illegal sale of state property, according to a document issued last week.
Keat Chhon indicates in his letter that his ministry’s inspection committee found equipment in the Takeo vocational training compound had been removed, transferred to other public institutions or sold by government officials for their own profit. The value of the equipment allegedly sold for profit was about $28,000, according to the document.
“The Ministry of Rural Development should take strict measures against officials who sold equipment and enforce them to pay the proceeds back,” reads the letter signed last Wednesday. The document does not provide additional details of the transactions, nor does it name individuals. Finance Ministry officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.
But according to a one-year-old report by the Ministry of Parliamentary Relations and Inspection, three vehicles, 42 air conditioners and other equipment worth $28,000 were sold in 1994 and 1995. Another 141 items were “lost” during that period. In addition, more than 150 prefabricated buildings were removed from the center in 1998 without proper procedures, according to the report.
Keat Chhon’s letter also orders any public institutions that received the equipment to follow proper procedure by issuing a certificate of usage.
The vocational center was a gift by the Japanese Ministry of Self-Defense, which built and used the facility as an Untac base in 1993, according to the Rural Development Ministry.
The compound, equipped with nearly 200 makeshift, prefabricated buildings with air-conditioning and other materials, was later used to provide training services for the poor.
Rural Development Minister Chhim Seakleng acknowledged the allegations, but said he has not been told the details.
“There is an allegation [of selling equipment], but I don’t have any investigation report….I’m still waiting for it,” said the minister. “We will soon call a meeting [at the ministry] to deal with this problem.”
Takeo Governor Kep Chuktema said Sunday he has no clue where the stolen or transferred equipment and buildings are.
“I was told the equipment was gone, but I’m not sure where it went because the problem occurred before I took the office [in April 1999],” said the governor. “I don’t even know where the equipment is. “How could I solve this problem?”
While experts said they consider this might be just one example of government officials selling state property for their own gain, they praised the Finance Ministry’s action.
“This is a beginning of the government taking serious action,” said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director for the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “Cambodia needs to focus on good governance….Otherwise, this kind of case continuously occurs.”
The order by Keat Chhon came just a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged during a $16 million handover of aid by Japan that its money would be spent correctly.
(Additional reporting by Ham Samnang)