Possible collusion, fraud and bid manipulation have been uncovered during a review of contracts for four multimillion-dollar World Bank-funded projects in Cambodia, the bank announced Friday.
The review was conducted from July to December 2004. Of 632 contracts associated with the projects, 257 were identified as having possible areas of concern, 119 of which were reviewed in depth, a summary of the findings released by the bank reads.
“The review…uncovered indicators of actions that may have taken place to provide the appearance of competition, namely possible collusion, bid manipulation or biased bid evaluation,” the summary stated.
The report summary went on to say that in some cases, different contractors used the same bank accounts, and bids that were supposedly submitted by different competitors used the same formats and contained the same mistakes.
The contracts were tendered, accepted and implemented by the government, which is also responsible for managing the World Bank-funded projects.
The projects reviewed by the bank were the $1.91-million Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Project; the $45.31-million Road Rehabilitation Project; the $22-million Rural Investment and Local Governance Project; and the now-completed $35-million Flood Emergency Rehabilitation Project.
The actual report has not been made public, and the summary did not say which suspect contracts belonged to which project, or how much the suspect contracts were worth.
The summary, however, said that problems also extended to the actual delivery of services and goods. “In many cases, the quality of completed sub-projects inspected exhibited poor quality or below-specification workmanship,” the summary reads.
The bank also admonished the government for its failure to punish civil servants involved in corruption, and described the country’s budgeting, procurement, accounting and internal and external controls as “weak.”
The summary said the bank would be conducting further investigation into cases where fraud and corruption were strongly suspected and would not rule out criminal charges.
Local World Bank representatives referred questions to their Bangkok office, which could not be reached for comment Sunday. Kong Vibol, Finance Ministry secretary of state, referred questions to Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who also could not be reached for comment.
In a speech at a workshop last week, World Bank Country Director Ian Porter said the review was part of the bank’s new four-year strategy to improve transparency. “Ensuring transparency and accountability in the expenditure of public funds needs to be a cornerstone of every government’s policy,” Porter said.
This isn’t the first time the government’s implementation of World Bank-funded projects has come under scrutiny.
In June 2003, misprocurement was identified in a multimillion-dollar project aimed at demobilizing 30,000 RCAF soldiers. The government repaid the bank $2.8 million following warnings by the bank that failure to do so could threaten funding for other projects.
Other organizations have faced similar problems.
In August 2004, the World Food Program announced it had found large quantities of rice stock intended for its Food for Work program being sold by officials for a profit.
The program was halted and the government repaid the WFP $900,000 in compensation, WFP Country Director Thomas Keusters said Sunday. Several WFP officials were fired and two government officials transferred from their positions following the scandal. The Food for Work program has since restarted in a limited capacity.
The World Bank’s report summary came one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused donors at the UN General Assembly of using aid money to benefit their own economies and push their own agendas. One Western diplomat said on Sunday that Hun Sen may be right in saying that international assistance is not being used as effectively as it could, but that the bigger problem is corruption within the country and the government.