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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rice fraud deal struck

Rice fraud deal struck

The government has agreed to compensate the United Nations World Food Program

(WFP) $900,000 for rice stolen in 2003 and 2004, and promised to take actions

against those responsible.

The agreement was signed February 28 - exactly

one year after the thefts were discovered - by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An,

said Ramaraj Saravanamuttu, deputy country director of WFP April

20.

Compensation will be paid in cash, in three installments, over the

next three years, and WFP are in discussions about restarting the Food For Work

(FFW) program which was defrauded, he said.

"WFP is hopeful that FFW

activities will be able to resume in May 2005, subject to ongoing consultations

with our partners, including donors," Saravanamuttu said.

"A key aspect

of these activities would be to alleviate the effects of the current drought,"

he said.

The agreement falls well short of earlier estimates putting the

value of the 4,000 metric tons of rice and other food that went missing at $2

million.

However, at the time the thefts were made public, in August last

year, Council of Ministers spokesman Sean Visoth said he believed the figure was

less than $2 million.

The FFW program employed impoverished Cambodians

to provide manual labor in exchange for food aid, but truckloads of rice went

missing between January 2003 and April 2004.

WFP discovered the thefts

when a significant number of trucks did not arrive at their destination on a

February 28 delivery, but the FFW program continued for another six weeks while

a team from WFP headquarters in Rome investigated.

Cambodia's biggest

food-aid donor suspended the FFW scheme in mid-April 2004 but has continued its

other programs so as not to unfairly penalize the "hungry poor", Saravanamuttu

told the Post.

He said new measures are being introduced to prevent

against future problems. Those measures include greater community involvement,

changes to staff and enhanced monitoring.

The agreement with the

government comes shortly after WFP announced it would begin distributing 1,500

metric tons of rice to more than 150,000 people suffering from food shortages

caused by recent drought.

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