MORE than 1,000 villagers in Banteay Meanchey province's Poipet commune have filed complaints against local authorities over the last three days, claiming that they have been unfairly cheated out of an ongoing emergency food handout by the Asian Development Bank.
Poipet commune resident Mean Sarith said many deserving people had missed out on rice because of blatant cronyism among local officials in charge of distribution.
"The commune chief is betraying his duty as a leader of poor people because he gave rice that was donated from the ADB only to his group and rich people.
It is very unfair for poor people," he said, adding that people were being left off lists because of political affiliations.
"I want donors to provide to the poor people directly, because almost all leaders are from the Cambodian People's Party and they keep the rice for themselves," he said.
The US$38 million project that was launched last week is supposed to distribute rice to those the organisation believes have been the worst affected by soaring global food prices.
This includes approximately 341,894 people living in 200 communes around the Tonle Sap lake and Oddar Meanchey province.
San Seanho, chief of Poipet commune, denied that people were being excluded from the handouts, saying the issue was simply one of over-demand.
"The amount of rice and the number of people needing rice are not the same. There are too many people who have come to register, and that's why they don't get rice," he said.
"I don't know why they think I side with a particular political party, I work for all people."
Piseth Long, the project implementation officer for ADB's Cambodian mission, said that he was aware of complaints in the area, but that they were more to do with people not being on the beneficiary list rather than a matter of political bias.
"There have been some complaints against village chiefs," he said.
"When the distribution is complete we will look into these complaints," he added.
The distribution is the first phase of a project scheduled to end in 2010 that will also provide subsidised seeds and fertiliser to farmers.
Food-for-work programs will also have to be implemented as hundreds of thousands of Cambodians struggle with rising food costs.