Senate Moves To Eliminate Extra Visa Aid

The Senate will no longer help its members get travel visas for spouses, children and relatives.

The decision comes amid an investigation into a visa scam in which it is alleged high government officials used their positions to procure fraudulent visas for clients paying thousands of dollars.

Lawmakers can still get visa help for themselves, but only if they are traveling on official Sen­ate business, said Um Sarith, the Senate’s secretary-general. Sena­tors traveling abroad for a holiday will have to apply for visas by going through the normal channels used by Cambodian citizens, he said.

The Senate’s 61 members previously received help from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to quickly and easily obtain visas from foreign embassies in Phnom Penh for entire delegations.

“The new policy is that no wife, children or relatives of the senators and [Senate] officials are approved for visas any more by the Senate even though they [senators and officials] are on a mission abroad,” Um Sarith said Tuesday. “We have to eliminate and avoid the old traces of corruption.”

The tightening of the Senate’s rules on visas comes almost two months after officials at the Ministry of Tourism and the US Embassy discovered fraudulent US visa applications submitted on government letterhead.

The documents in question listed 17 names, including  undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism Sambo Che and senators Kem Sokha and Khieu San. In some cases investigators alleged that people used the names of government officials to apply for visas without the officials’ knowledge.

Chan Ven, the deputy secretary general of the National Assembly, said he will soon suggest a similar policy for that body.

“We are very careful and strict to lawmakers who have a mission abroad,” Chan Ven said. “If they want to take their wife with them, they need a wedding certificate or authorization from a local authority.”

The National Assembly’s methods for handling visa applications have been criticized for being too weak to prevent corruption,  since a family book and wedding certificate are easy to forge.

“I want to do something similar to the Senate,” Chan Ven said. “I have an idea to raise this in the secretariat and then we will make a proposal and send it to National Assembly president Prince Norodom Ranariddh.”

A Senate official who asked for anonymity said some workers from the protocol office, responsible for the visa assistance to senators, have been moved recently to a different Senate office.

Um Sarith acknowledged some Senate staff had been reassigned to new offices, but said the moves had nothing to do with the visa incidents.


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