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Social Affairs Ministry Probe Reveals Graft:

"The dead remember our indifference, the dead remember our silence. We issued economic sanctions and hid behind the rhetoric of diplomacy."

The Ministry of Economic and Finance last week asked the Ministry of Social Affairs to return more than $5 million allegedly embezzled from government coffers through falsified budgets and pensions collected in the names of “ghost” veterans, according to a letter from the finance minister.

In July 5 letter, Finance Minister Keat Chhon wrote to Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng, saying a recent Anti-Corruption Unit probe had revealed evidence of broad-based malfeasance.

“I would like to inform Your Excellency that the cooperation among officials at 24 provincial departments of social affairs, veterans and youth rehabilitation, the Unit has uncovered suspicious from a number of ghost [veterans] and irregularities totaling 22,472,742,000 riels [about $5.8 million] that must be returned into the state budget and must be cut off from” this year’s payouts of benefits, Mr Chhon said in the letter.

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The letter said some 8.9 billion riels, or about $2.2, had been illegally spent on “ghost “veterans and supposedly disabled officials. Another 13,917,689,309 riel, or about $3.4 million, had been illegally spent on knowingly overstated advance payments for expenses.

“In order to coordinate this measure, the Ministry of Economy and Finance would like to request the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation to advise expert officials to provide a detailed figure of ghost, prerequisite and irregular procurement that each department has confessed to the ACU,” he added.

Mr Sam Heng, the social affairs minister, could not be reached and Yi Yaun, secretary of state, declined to comment when the ministry would repay the government.

“We have seen this, too, and we are managing it,” Khuon Ranin, undersecretary of state and Cabinet director at the ministry, said yesterday. He declined to discuss in any detail the alleged mismanagement of state funds and whether anyone would be held responsible.

“I did not know,” Mr Ranin said. “It is the jurisdiction of the Anti-Corruption Unit.”

Om Yentieng, head of the ACU; and unit’s spokeman, Keo Remy; and Finance Ministry officials were unavailable.

In a speech last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs that officials could face prosecution over an ACU investigation that found widespread embezzlement of veteran pensions.

An opposition lawmaker and an anticorruption activist yesterday urged the government to take legal action against officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs after a probe by the Anticorruption Unit revealed that more than $5 million was taken through falsified budgets and pension schemes.

“It is a serious case. It should not end simply with the repayment of the money,” president of the Cambodian Independent Anti-Corruption Committee, Man Sitha, said. “The corrupt officials in the case must be prosecuted by the court.”

“The government and ACU should dare to take strong action against this ministry, otherwise, such an ugly concept would continue to grow in society,” Ms Sitha said.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers Kimsour Phirith said yesterday that if the ACU fails to prosecute those responsible at the ministry, he plans to ask the National Assembly to grill Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng about the case. “We are very much, and we are closely watching it,” Mr Phirith said. “Repaying money money is not enough. The anticorruption law is already there and it must be implemented.”

He added that opposition lawmakers will seeks to impeach Mr Sam Heng if none are taken to task, but for now they are waiting to see if the government takes action.

“Now we are waiting to see what the government’s stance is in treating this case,” he said. “If it is not fair enough, we will call the government and the minister for questioning inside the assembly.”

Yi Yaun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, declined to comment and referred questions to ministry spokesman Lim El Djurado who could not be reached.

Publication: Social Affairs Ministry Probe Reveals Graft, Friday, July 15, 2011
By: Phann Ana, The Cambodia Daily

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