Transparency Called For in Finance Probe

The award of a Finance Min­istry contract worth an estimated $1.3 million to supply uniforms for Customs and Excise officials should be investigated thoroughly and transparently following claims of impropriety in the procurement process, a senior government official said on Friday.

The call for scrutiny of the Finance Ministry contract comes as the owner of a local garment company claimed that if the tender for uniforms was re-opened to competitive bidding the cost to government would be halved.

At least one senior government official has said the uniforms were bid at $1.3 million.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon ordered an investigation this week into the procurement of the uniforms after several local companies wrote letters of complaint detailing “abnormalities” in the bidding process they claimed had prevented them from competing.

“There should be an investigation, and when the results come out I hope truth comes out,” a senior government official said on Friday.

“[Finance Ministry staff] are in a big mess because of these irregularities,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anony­mity.

The official claimed procurement scams were widespread in ministries and warned that future generations of Cambodians would have to shoulder the burden of debt caused by the practice.

Keat Chhon is attending an Asean meeting in the Philippines, and numerous Finance Ministry officials contacted this week declined to make any comment on the investigation or divulge any details of the contentious bid.

Patt Serey, owner of SNL Im­port Export Co, Ltd,—one of the companies alleging they were excluded from the bidding pro­cess for the uniforms—said on Friday he could slash the cost agreed upon for the uniforms to $700,000.

“I studied and talked with tax and customs officials about the bid. I know the process…. At least eight companies are hungry to beat that price in public,” Patt Serey said.

“If the ministry gave enough information, there were close to 20 companies who would have joined the bidding. If I were part of the bid I would put only $700,000. I think that other companies may give lower bids,” he said.

Patt Serey said he had no confidence in any internal investigation conducted by the Finance Min­istry.

“How can the low officials investigate [in their own ministry]? I don’t think anything will change after the investigation,” he said.

Chief among the companies’ complaints are that the Finance Ministry failed to adequately publicize that it was accepting tenders to supply the uniforms.

The companies claim that the advertising that did appear was placed in an obscure edition of a local newspaper just two days before the bid deadline. The advertisement also did not carry a Finance Ministry reference code, an address or a telephone number of the department handling the procurement.

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