World Bank Denies ‘Smiling Past Corruption’

The World Bank has responded to renewed charges of laxity in the face of official graft, saying it is confronting the problem in Cambodia directly.

The accusations appeared in a Thursday editorial in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Smiling Past Corruption” which claimed that newly disclosed information from the World Bank’s anti-corruption unit showed it had forgiven much of the corruption it claimed to have uncovered in Cambodia last year.

According to the editorial, “evidence of extortion, bribe taking, bid-rigging, and procurement man­ipulation was rampant” in a number of government projects being funded by the Bank in Cambodia.

Government officials on Tues­day, however, rejected that assessment, saying Cambodia’s handling of the Bank-funded projects had been honest.

In May of last year, the World Bank announced that seven Bank-funded projects worth tens of millions of dollars had been tainted by corruption, setting off a row with the government, which claimed that the Bank was tarnishing its reputation without providing sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

In February of this year, the Bank resumed funding of three suspended projects, with a total val­ue of over $71 million, saying anticorruption efforts being enacted by the government meant work could safely begin again. The four other suspect projects had already been completed.

Responding to detailed questions submitted Monday about the Wall Street Journal’s claims, a spokes­man for the Bank in Cambodia on Tuesday forwarded a letter to the Journal from Marwan Muasher, the Bank’s senior vice president for external affairs in Washington.

The Bank was reviewing a re­quest for the investigation reports to be made public, however no dir­ect answers to questions were im­mediately available Tuesday, the spokesman added.

In his Oct 12 letter to the newspaper, Muasher said: “Far from smiling past corruption in Cambodia, the World Bank is confronting corruption head on in that country.”

While the Bank has canceled $2.5 million in funding, the government has repaid $2.89 million in misprocured funds, agreed to in­tensified audits, to hire an international procurement agent for the contract tendering process and to incorporate anticorruption “action plans” in all existing and future Bank agreements, Muasher added.

Finance Ministry officials could not be contacted Tuesday while government spokesman and Infor­mation Minister Khieu Kanharith did not respond to requests for comment.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, chair of the National Assembly commission on corruption, said claims that the government had shaped up were not to be believed.

“I would like to tell the World Bank it’s nonsense,” he said. “Any­thing can happen in Cambodia. Both the government and the World Bank have to be careful.”

However, Meng Saktheara, former project manager of the Minist­ry of Industry’s $21.8 million peri-urban water and sanitation project, said Tuesday that under him the project had been clean, despite the fact the Bank had frozen its funding for the initiative.

“I strongly believe that what we did is right,” said Meng Saktheara, a member of the advisory cabinet to Minister of Industry Suy Sem.

Ly Pros, secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development, which administered a $21.18 million dollar project for which funds were initially frozen, said an inquiry by the Ministry of National Assem­bly-Senate Relations and Inspection was ongoing.

Top officials and government projects were under close scrutiny, he said.

“Not only projects funded under the World Bank but even projects supported by the government’s budget,” he said.

“We are now working hard to prevent any corruption and not be­cause the World Bank ordered us to do so,” he said. “We care for the national interest.”

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