UN Food Program Aid Falls Amid Scandal

A suspension of some World Food Program projects in the wake of a corruption scandal have slowed the agency’s distribution of food to a fraction of the relief aid provided in recent years, WFP’s country director said Thursday.

The UN body stopped new Food-for-Work programs on March 1, on the heels of an internal investigation that turned up a network of government and organization staff falsifying documents to cover up the diversion and sale of WFP-donated food.

The Food-for-Work projects will remain shut down until WFP and government reach a consensus on compensation to the UN body, disciplinary action against government conspirators and safeguards against corruption in future projects. Meanwhile, thousands of tons of food donated for families in Cam­bodia’s countryside are sitting in WFP stockpiles, said WFP country director Thom­as Keust­ers.

Through the first eight months of this year, WFP has doled out some 3,750 tons of food to villagers through its Food-for-Work programs, a significant drop from 24,700 tons distributed last year.

And although other WFP programs have continued, the total amount of distributed food has fallen from 40,700 tons in 2003 to about 12,600 tons through Aug­ust, Keusters said.

Negotiations between the WFP and the government hit a snag last week when a Council of Ministers anti-corruption task force, chaired by Cabinet Minister Sok An, rej­ected some of the WFP investigation’s findings.

On Thursday, Sean Visoth, a member of the anti-corruption team, said the government is waiting for a renewed proposal from WFP. The UN body’s executive di­rect­ors will discuss Cambodia next week in Rome, Keusters said.

The Food-for-Work program is designed to reward food to villagers for their labor on a variety of public construction projects.

WFP currently is distributing provisions earned through expir­ed Food-for-Work projects “with detailed care,” Keusters said. The suspension of the projects won’t affect WFP’s other relief projects, including an evaluation in parts of the country where food shortages were reported last month, he said.

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