Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen, tax chief accuse US of lying about cuts to aid

Hun Sen, tax chief accuse US of lying about cuts to aid

Tax Department head Kong Vibol speaks at a meeting in Phnom Penh in 2016.
Tax Department head Kong Vibol speaks at a meeting in Phnom Penh in 2016. Heng Chivoan

Hun Sen, tax chief accuse US of lying about cuts to aid

Prime Minister Hun Sen and tax chief Kong Vibol accused the US of lying about cutting assistance to Cambodia, claiming that one of the programs on the chopping block hasn’t existed since 2016.

In a speech to garment workers in the Sihanoukville SEZ on Saturday, Hun Sen said the US was “cutting air”, not aid.

“They do not give us this aid, but then they announce they will cut this aid,” the premier said, adding later that “in the past, there was only fake news, but now there is fake embassy”.

Cambodian officials have remained defiant after the White House announced last week it would cut several assistance programs in the Kingdom due to the ongoing political crackdown, which has seen the country’s only viable opposition party forcibly dissolved.

US officials have declined to specify which programs are being cut, saying only they are targeting areas of the Cambodian government directly involved in the political crackdown, including the Tax Department.
In a letter to the Tax Department two days after the announcement, US Ambassador William Heidt said the US “has suspended capacity building support to the [Tax Department] and its officials”.

Vibol responded the same day in a fiery public letter in which he said all aid programs with the US had ended in 2016, pointing out that Heidt had personally attended the closing ceremony of the last project.

“I am starting to feel that Your Excellency Ambassador is trying to make up the political issues,” reads the letter, which goes on to accuse Heidt of providing “biased and wrong information to the [US] State Department and the US government about the situation in Cambodia”.

The US is also cutting or reducing programs supporting the Cambodian military and local government. However, projects “in support of the Cambodian people” – including those in health, agriculture and mine clearance – will not be affected, according to the White House.

In his speech on Saturday, Hun Sen called on the ambassador to clarify. “Do you intend to ruin the reputation of Cambodia by saying that you are the aid donor and that you cut the aid because you are not satisfied?” he asked.

However, the premier added he still intends to maintain “good relations” with the US, which he has accused of colluding with the now-dissolved opposition to foment “revolution”.

“I do not look down on His Excellency [Ambassador Heidt],” he said. “But His Excellency lied and has done something bad and lied to my people, so I have an obligation to clarify and explain for them.”

US embassy spokesman Arend Zwartjes today clarified the US position on assistance to the tax department, saying that while the most recent US assistance at the General Department of Taxation (DGT) concluded in December 2016, additional requests meant planning had been ongoing.

"We received several requests from the government to continue assistance activities at the GDT, which were under consideration until recently," he said. "However, as the February 27 White House statement indicated, the U.S. Government suspended assistance to the DGT as well as several other foreign assistance programs in Cambodia."

This version adds comment from US embassy spokesman.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the

  • S’ville set to turn into ‘second Shenzhen’

    The Ministry of Economy and Finance has awarded a master plan consultancy contract to top Chinese institute for the development and transformation of Preah Sihanouk province into a “Model Multi-Purpose Special Economic Zone”, Southeast Asia’s next logistics and resort hub and innovation centre. The