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Runaway bribes targeted

More than 100 government workers called to a meeting yesterday with Anti-Corruption Unit head Om Tintieng were presented with evidence that every government ministry is in some way overcharging for public services.

But despite the overwhelming evidence of illegal behaviour by government employees, there would be no arrests, the ACU chief said. Instead, the ministries will now be required to submit a list of fees for public services that Prime Minister Hun Sen will personally approve.

“Our first choice would be to arrest and deliver legal punishment, but we did not choose this. It is not the way the situation works,” he said.

“We chose a second option, which is to get together and set exact fees for the Prime Minister to approve.”

Yesterday’s ground-breaking ACU meeting was the first to directly attack the collection of bribes, or “facilitation fees”, by government employees.

“It’s near election time . . .  we must all work together to fight (corruption),” Om Yintieng told the delegation, adding that the ACU was looking to reform the public service administration in the Kingdom before the national elections in 2012 and 2013.

“You have to be responsible and have a conscience,” he said.

The ACU distributed a list indicating that fees including those for passports, delay visas, NGO issuing licences and company registrations were being set at a higher rate than was stipulated in the law.

The list also showed that commune police chiefs had paid as much as $7,000 for promotions, while investors had paid as much as $50,000 to have their projects given the green light.

Om Yintieng told the delegation the ACU had also received complaints from three foreign embassies that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had taken facilitation fees of between $1,000 and $1,200 for the embassies to register with the ministry.

Government ministries must submit a list of fees they wish to charge for public services “as soon as possible” to Hun Sen for approval in order to legally set appropriate charges and avoid any allegations of bribery or criticisms of corruption, Om Yintieng said. “We have to deal with this. Foreigners agreed to give you money, but do you issue the bill for them? Because they know there is a law on anti-corruption, foreigners can complain.”

Foreign investment would dry up if bribery and overcharging for licences continued, he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Ouch Borith denied his officials had anything to do with overcharging related to passport services.

“We have told NGOs and foreign embassies that they do not need to pay for registration, and we definitely do not allow our officials to take any fees.  We follow the government policy, and we never hear any complaints,” he said.

Ministry of Interior Secretary of State Teng Savong agreed that police officials sometimes charged money for public services that were supposed to be free of charge.

But, he said, this was only to earn what little extra money they could to provide for their families, who could not be supported on a police officer’s meagre salary.

“It is about the problem of their stomachs. There are many problems that are caused because the government doesn’t feed them (pay them) enough,” Teng Savong said.

“Some police officers will go out on a mission just to follow their boss’s order. Their bosses don’t ask them if they have enough money to complete the mission. It’s an ongoing problem.”

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