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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - WFP-government rice fraud talks yield nothing

WFP-government rice fraud talks yield nothing

Almost five months after the government accepted full responsibility for the theft

of up to $2 million worth of rice from the UN's World Food Program (WFP), it has

yet to pay a single dollar in compensation to the aid agency.

Ramarat Sarabanamuttu, deputy country director of WFP, told the Post that although

correspondence has been exchanged, there remains no agreement on the value of the

stolen rice or when the WFP will be repaid.

"It's still ongoing. There hasn't been any substantial progress yet," said

Sarabanamuttu on January 25.

"Hopefully, sooner rather than later it would be repaid, either in cash or in-kind,

in rice," Sarabanamuttu said. "It is very complex. There are a number of

issues that need to be looked at."

Between January 2003 and April 2004 an estimated 4,000 metric tons of rice and other

food products were systematically misdirected by people involved in the WFP's Food

for Work scheme.

The theft involved government ministries, trucking companies, rice traders, commune

chiefs, and local government officers working in collusion with WFP distribution

staff, said the aid agency in August 2004.

Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to compensate the WFP after UN investigators found

the organization had been defrauded.

"The government is committed to dealing with corruption under the adopted Rectangular

Strategy, and we are taking this case very seriously," said Sean Visoth, Council

of Ministers spokesman, at the time.

The Food for Work scheme had allowed poor farmers to receive rice in exchange for

approved work, such as the building of local roads and other infrastructure. All

new Food for Work programs have been suspended since the fraud was discovered.

At the time, WFP Country Director Rebecca Hansen said "If [the government] did

not accept anything then we would have to seriously look at our future in Cambodia."



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