The World Bank's announcement of a new $14 million grant to the government does not
lessen the importance of a comprehensive government investigation into the instances
of misprocurement uncovered in 43 Bank-funded contracts, German Ambassador Pius Fischer
told the Post.
In a statement announcing the grant on June 28 for its Public Financial Management
and Accountability Project, the Bank said the grant is intended to support improvements
in the management of and accounting for public finances, and is a "key component"
of the Bank's drive to improve governance and fight corruption.
Awarding the government a new grant so soon after the discovery that $11.7 million
had gone astray through misprocurement, may seem incongruous. But far from letting
the government off the hook, the new grant highlights the importance placed by international
donors on the government committing itself to a complete investigation of the Bank's
finding of corrupt practices.
"This reinforces the seriousness of the problem," Fischer said. "The
donors, who have a certain responsibility to taxpayers in their countries, and the
shareholders of the World Bank, are seriously concerned regarding this issue - it
is very important that the government takes this seriously and starts a proper investigation."
The new project is aiming to ensure that misprocurement scandals like that which
has unravelled over the last month do not happen again.
"It supports a long-term program of critical reforms for improving public financial
management," said Nisha Agrawal, country manager for Cambodia, in the statement.
"In doing so, [it] helps to strengthen fiduciary systems."
But Fischer said it does not mean that the government can evade its responsibility
to investigate and hold to account those responsible for the recent instances of
"The World Bank has certainly put enough evidence on the table," he said.
"The investigation could be started by the relevant ministries now."
Fischer, who raised the issue of the World Bank's allegations of corruption and the
Cambodian government's response at the quarterly Government Donor Coordinating Committee
meeting on June 14, dismissed both the government's insistence that it had not been
given sufficient evidence to investigate and its demands to have key witnesses named.
"It is not necessary to name the witnesses - they must be protected; some of
them are very concerned about their safety," he said. "There is enough
written evidence to proceed."
In light of the government's response to the World Bank's discovery of misprocurement
- which included a newspaper advertisement suggesting the Bank might have a hidden
political agenda to discredit the government - the Bank's June 28 statement emphasized
the importance of cooperation in combating corruption.
"When corruption is found, the Bank needs to work vigorously with the Government
to take appropriate actions, so that development assistance ultimately benefits the
poor who are its intended beneficiaries," said World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz
in the statement.
Ian Porter, Country Director of the World Bank in Cambodia, agreed that cooperation
was essential so that Cambodia's population might continue to see improvements in
their standard of living.
"It is important that we work with the government to fix the weaknesses affecting
these projects, so that we can get back to the business of helping to ensure that
people have secure property rights, that roads are built, that more people have access
to clean water," he said in the Bank's statement.
And despite the, at times, confrontational response from the government, the Bank
emphasised that such co-operation has been forthcoming.
"The government is now working with the Bank to fix the problems of the past
and also to adopt new implementation measures to minimise future fiduciary risks,"
the statement said.
The government expressed satisfaction that the World Bank was committed to co-operation.
"The government would like to thank the World Bank," said Information Minister
Khieu Kannarith. "They said they will continue cooperation with the government."