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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NGO denies stealing food from HIV orphans

NGO denies stealing food from HIV orphans

NGO denies stealing food from HIV orphans

An NGO in Prey Veng province is denying allegations that it has for years been misappropriating

food donations intended for people infected with HIV/AIDS and young children orphaned

by the fatal virus.

Sin Sovannara, president of the Alliance of Peer Support in Ba Phnom district, has

accused the staff of Women's Organization for Modern Economy and Nursing (WOMEN)

of stealing rice received from the World Food Program (WFP) and keeping it for themselves,

their relatives and local police.

"Those victims will die and the orphans will become street kids because of the

lack of food," Sophannara said. "The distribution is not balanced and WFP

is not providing rice regularly to the HIV/AIDS victims."

Sophannara said "irregularities" in aid distribution have occurred since

2006, and he claims the WFP has never come to investigate the activities of WOMEN.

Chea Sarith, president of WOMEN, denied that his staff has committed any corruption.

He said his staff does not misdirect the rice nor take bribes from HIV/AIDS, because

all the valid recipients have the correct documentation.

"WFP visits the site and inspects whether the victims receive rice or not,"

Sarith said.

"The problem is some victims take the rice to sell, not to eat, and that's why

we decided to cut their name because it contradicts [the guidelines] of our donors

and our policy."

Sarith said in Prey Veng there are more than 1,000 families living with HIV/AIDS,

and 827 of these families receive 30 kg of rice each month from the WFP.

WFP provides roughly 24 tons of rice to HIV/AIDS victims in Prey Veng each month.

"Our priority is to provide rice to poor victims and vulnerable orphans,"

Sarith said.

"I think the conflict comes from victims who are seeking personal gain. If the

donors cut off the aid it won't affect WOMEN, but thousands of HIV/AIDS victims."

Thomas J. Keusters, country director at WFP, said an on-going investigation has so

far found 17 cases of food assistance going to undeserving recipients.

According to Keusters, there may be a "misunderstanding" because WFP ran

out of food for a while and was forced to temporarily suspend its distribution program.

"I think it's a minor problem. We monitored the distribution in the field"

Keusters said. "If something was going wrong, why don't they come out and try

to rectify the situation?"

Keusters said the government had provided 2,000 tons of rice to WFP, with some of

it earmarked for people living with HIV/AIDS and orphans and vulnerable children.

He added that the WFP presently provides food to these groups in 16 provinces.

"We concentrated at the rural areas," Keuster said. "But we have to

be selective in the areas to receive distribution."

The program provides orphaned and HIV/AIDS-infected households with 30 kg of rice,

1 kg of fortified vegetable oil and 500 grams of iodized salt each month.

But Long Socheat, an HIV/AIDS sufferer in Beung Preah commune, Ba Phnom district,

said the WOMEN staff demand money for the rice or take it for themselves.

She said the NGO staff also provides rice to a commune police chief who does not

have the virus.

"It is injust for people living with HIV/AIDS who have their name on the list

but do not receive rice," Socheat said.

"Thirty kilograms of rice is not much, but it helps to reduce the difficulties

of my family for a while. What they are doing is for their own benefit," said

Socheat. "I'm appealing to donors not for myself but for Cambodians living with

HIV/AIDS."

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