T HE jurisdictional battle between the Finance and Commerce Ministries over control of customs duties and Cambodian oil importing companies looks like being a one:one tie.
Funcinpec's Finance Minister Sam Rainsy expressed confidence that his ministry will win out in a battle with CPP-controlled Commerce over the Inchcape pre-shipment inspection deal.
But he was far more pessimistic over a long-running dispute with Commerce over a deal he signed with the French company Total to distribute oil products.
Inchcape Testing Services (ITS) entered a contract with the Finance Ministry in May empowering ITS to inspect and determine the duties payable on certain goods being imported into the country.
ITS was to begin preshipment inspection of particular goods, mainly pharmaceuticals and oil, on July 1.
But the contract was put on hold after the Ministry of Commerce, headed by Var Huoth (CPP), wrote a letter on June 13 to the co-prime ministers declaring the contract was illegal because import inspection fell under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Ministry.
The letter said the ITS contract would displace the Commerce Ministry's Office of Import and Export Inspection called Camcontrol which was set-up by government statutory provisions.
The letter said Camcontrol was planning to enter its own joint venture arrangements with certain companies including SGS regarding preshipment inspection.
In an interview with the Post, Rainsy declared: "Customs fall within the competence of the Ministry of Finance. We have clear written laws about this. Thus the contract the Ministry has signed is perfectly legal. Inchcape is to start activity within two to three months.
"Inchcape is just waiting for registration and the signature of both prime ministers but the case is clear enough to avoid any problems. Prince Ranariddh and even the King have expressed their support in this matter.
The Finance Minister said: "Var Huoth complains that Camcontrol, which is under his responsibility, will be taken over by Inchcape.
"No such thing will happen. In fact Inchcape is just a provider of services for the government. Its work is complementary to Camcontrol which was created to ensure punctual inspections. The Ministry of Finance never intended to overturn this statutory body.
Sam Rainsy is not so confident regarding his plans to establish joint ventures with two oil companies, one of which is CPP owned.
Rainsy entered the joint venture contracts with CKC (Compagnie Kampuchea des Carburants) and Total in Dec 1993. CKC is owned by the CPP and has been supplying imported oil from Vietnam for more than 10 years.
Sources suggest Rainsy's joint venture, which attempts to bring greater quality control over oil imports, may reduce CKC sales margins. Rainsy says: "The joint-venture I intended to create with the CKC to take charge of the warehouses and the distribution of oil products is another problem.
"Our legislation is very vague on this matter. There is no clear statement whether this joint venture is under the responsibility of the Commerce or Finance Ministry.
He adds: "Var Huoth also points out the CKC is under his competence. We are examining another formula as we seem to be at a deadlock."
Administrative and financial manager of Total Elisabeth Nalpas said: "We have been waiting for a solution to this problem since December 1993. We have a whole staff here but we have almost no work to give them. Next December we will probably have to reduce our staff if there is no improvement."
She said the country chief of Total Andre Camp was currently in France discussing the future of the company in Cambodia with his head office.