Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng downplayed Wednesday allegations of government mismanagement in the handling of rural road projects.
Responding to a question by a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian at Wednesday’s National Assembly meeting, Sar Kheng said he and the former Japanese ambassador presided over the inauguration of one of the road projects in question more than two years ago. He added that he “built” the 45-km stretch of road in Kamchay Mear district in Prey Veng province after he received a request from villagers.
“Regarding the rural road scandal, there is no big problem,” maintained Sar Kheng.
The road, referred to as the “Sar Kheng road” by villagers, is the only one of six projects in question that Finance Minister Keat Chhon recently concluded qualifies for disbursement from a special Japanese aid account. But even that project raises questions: Japan didn’t approve the plan until last January, well after construction was completed.
The rural-road controversy stems from a request by the Rural Development Ministry in May to receive a total of $570,000 for six road projects from a Japanese aid account. Two government officials later acknowledged that they had submitted documents indicating the projects were under construction rather than already completed.
Furthermore, investigations found that at least one road was built for private use and two others apparently had been paid for by another foreign donor.
Japanese Ambassador Masaki Saito has said that Japan won’t resume what it called “non-project aid” until disciplinary measures are taken. In a Dec 1 letter, Keat Chhon called on the Ministry of Rural Development to punish officials involved, but the ministry has yet to take action.