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Ministry’s ‘massive graft’

MINISTER of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon has requested that the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation repay an estimated US$5.5 million it paid to “ghost officials” and used in “irregular expenses”.

In a letter, sent to Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng on July 5 and obtained by The Post yesterday, Keat Chhon asked that about 22 billion riels of irregular spending is repaid to the state  – following an investigation by the government’s Anticorruption Unit in cooperation with the 24 provincial social affairs departments. “Please advise the expert [financial] department to offer detailed numbers of the ghost officials, irregularity of purchasing … which individual social departments confessed to the ACU,” Chhon wrote.  

The repayment, the letter states, can be taken from the 2011 ministry budget – which is estimated at $62.8 million.

The move follows revelations made by Prime Minster Hun Sen late last month that the ACU had completed a graft investigation at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Officials were found to have stolen money from the pensions of dead and retired civil servants, but no arrests were to be made at the time, he said. Hun Sen added that he had personally ordered the investigation in March.

“The bureaucracy and ignorance of the officials at the Ministry of Social Affairs dissuaded the retirees from coming back again and again,” said the premier. “If you want to try it again, you’ll be in trouble.”

Yesterday San Chey, a fellow at the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said that more action should be taken and the anticorruption law should be fully implemented.

“I think that besides forcing [the ministry] to repay the budget, those individual officials responsible must be punished in accordance with the anticorruption law as a warning to other officials,” Chey said.

The secretary general of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Ke Sovannroth, said that he welcomed ACU’s uncovering of  “massive corruption” at the Social Affairs Ministry. “I think that the ACU or the Minister of Economy and Finance has to order an investigation of all state assets,” he said.

Om Yentieng, head of the ACU, could not be reached for comment, while Keo Remy, ACU spokesman, declined to  comment. Lem El Djurado, spokesman at the Ministry of Social Affairs, could not be reached for comment.

Ghost civil servants are employees being paid a salary without having to show up for work.

In April, an official at the Council of Ministers said that more than 4,000 “ghosts” had been discovered during an analysis of the state’s payroll that began early last year. A 1995 census uncovered roughly 18,000 ghost civil servants, while a census conducted in 2000 and 2001 revealed about 9,000 ghost civil servants.

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