Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Health chief grilled at NA

Health chief grilled at NA

Health Minister Mam Bunheng addresses the media outside the National Assembly early last year.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng addresses the media outside the National Assembly early last year. Pha Lina

Health chief grilled at NA

Health Minister Mam Bunheng offered “irresponsible” answers at the National Assembly yesterday as lawmakers sought to question him on several irregularities under his watch, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers said, though a decision on whether to follow through on an earlier threat to seek his impeachment hasn’t been made just yet.

The session, which was attended by 81 lawmakers, was limited to only one hour, during which Bunheng took 20 minutes to read prepared remarks, after which lawmakers were able to ask follow-up questions. Bunheng didn’t speak to reporters after the session and didn’t answer numerous phone calls throughout the day.

CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang, who spoke to the media after the session, said he couldn’t accept the minister’s responses.

“His answers are not true and some questions were not answered,” he said. “In short, his answers were not satisfactory and he answered some questions irresponsibly.”

Bunheng was questioned on allegations of graft involving Global Fund money, the management of imported medication and Cambodia’s hospitals, doctors’ ethical standards and the country’s overall health care system, which lacks public confidence.

On the matter of the Global Fund, which Health Ministry officials have previously de-frauded, Bunheng said the issue wasn’t for the ministry to deal with, but rather for the Anti-Corruption Unit and the Global Fund itself.

He added that the Global Fund was satisfied with the report by the ACU’s investigation.

“I believe His Excellency Om Yentieng also has a duty to answer [questions] about this at our National Assembly,” the minister told lawmakers.

Global Fund spokesman Seth Faison would only say that the fund “continues to work with the government of Cambodia to find solutions”, adding that he could not say “more at this time”.

Just three years after the National Malaria Centre – which is under the ministry – was embroiled in a corruption scandal involving the distribution of Global Fund contracts, more allegations of corruption were revealed in May by a Post investigation.

Officials at the centre were found to be doling out jobs to relatives, who then used the positions to claim often-spurious travel expenses from donors like the Global Fund and FHI 360. Despite a wealth of evidence, no action was publicly taken against those involved.

Chai Eang also raised the issue of the sale of the land formerly occupied by the National Malaria Centre. He claimed the land’s market price was about $3,000 per square metre, but it was sold by the ministry for only $1,500 a square metre, a difference he maintained was unacceptable.

Bunheng also was questioned the sale of the Chamkarmon district referral hospital, which has since been converted into a bank. But all that the minister would say was that he agreed to sell those locations because of the needs of Phnom Penh City Hall and the government.

“I did it [according] to the legal procedures,” he told lawmaker. “I respect the existing law … and respected the existing procedures.”

Bungheng also assured lawmakers that companies that import medication and pharmacies that sell it are inspected twice and four times a year, respectively. He also highlighted a new agreement between his ministry and the Ministry of Interior to crack down on unlicensed doctors.

“We have filed complaints to the court against some unlicensed doctors and falsely certified doctors,” he told lawmakers. “[The] ministry is strengthening law enforcement step-by-step … We are not … ignoring it.”

CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann, who didn’t have a chance to ask questions because of the limited time, expressed dissatisfaction with the minister’s responses after the session. “From my opinion, his answers were not fully responsible before the assembly,” he said. CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, who had warned of starting the process to impeach Bunheng if he failed to adequately address concerns, said he was out of the country and unable to attend the session. But he would check with his colleagues upon his arrival back in the capital, “before making a decision on what to do next”.

Monyvann and Chhai Eang, meanwhile, said the CNRP would have a meeting to discuss further action.

Thirty members of parliament would need to make such request to take the issue to a vote at the National Assembly.

MOST VIEWED

  • Purging Sihanoukville’s past with a new masterplan

    Amid illicit activities, haphazard development and abandoned projects, the coastal city of Sihanouk province needs a reset to move forward. A new masterplan might be the answer to shake off its seemingly mucky image to become the Shenzhen of the south Gun toting, shootouts, police

  • Chinese may be first in tourism revival: PM

    Cambodia's tourism industry is gearing up to roll out the red carpet for Chinese travellers after Prime Minister Hun Sen on September 17 indicated that the Kingdom could soon throw open its doors to international holidaymakers vaccinated against Covid-19 – starting with guests from China. Cambodia Chinese

  • 'Pursue your goals, reach out to me': Young diplomat tapped as envoy to South Korea

    Chring Botum Rangsay was a secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation before being designated as the new Cambodian ambassador to South Korea. According to her official CV published on the foreign ministry’s website, she started her first government

  • Tourism concerns laid bare

    To ensure the success of plans to reopen the tourism market for international visitors, Cambodia must pay utmost attention to two primary determinants – the ongoing paradigm shift in domestic tourism services towards the ‘new normal’, and the factors influencing choices of destinations among foreign holidaymakers.

  • Covid jab drive for 6-11 age group to begin Sept 17

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has permitted Covid-19 vaccinations for over 1.8 million children aged 6-11 across the country from September 17 in order for them to return to school after a long hiatus. Hun Sen also hinted that vaccinations for the 3-6 age group will follow in

  • No ‘Crown Prince’ exists to buy France football club: ministry

    The Ministry of the Royal Palace has denied media reports that a Cambodian “Crown Prince” had purchased the AS Saint Etienne football club of France’s top-flight LIGUE 1 at the cost of €100 million ($117 million). In a press statement on September 19, the ministry stressed that Cambodia