Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon has demanded officials reveal just how much they are spending on state-funded trips overseas and what those trips are accomplishing, a move observers said was a long overdue bid for accountability in an often-abused system.
In a letter dated July 10 and endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Chhon advised the heads of all public ministries and public institutions to review their sending of workers overseas and set out a three-point initiative to counter abuses and inefficiency.
The circular, however, failed to reveal figures for any specific budget blowouts on overseas jaunts that may have prompted the reforms.
Contacted yesterday, Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspections spokesman Huot Hak said his department – which audits ministries’ expenditure – had found “a number of irregularities” concerning publicly funded overseas trips, mostly related to officials not submitting receipts for expenses.
Declining to reveal figures, he played down their significance, however, saying there were only “a few issues” and that his department had recommended “corrections” to improve the concerned ministries in the coming years.
Explaining the background yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said he believed that “Excellency Keat Chhon has met problems in this field of work and he wants to see transparency and accountability”.
Among the measures, Chhon tells government bodies to ensure that technical staff accompany political officials abroad to make sure qualified people are involved in delegations.
He also ordered ministry heads to specify the number of travellers and exact source of funding in all requests for official overseas trips.
And in the case of using a state loan for travel, officials must also detail the amount set aside for planned and emergency expenses.
Those figures must then be included in the ministry’s budget, the document states.
Further, to assess their effectiveness, Chhon requested ministers and institution heads complete a short report summarising the outcome of each mission.
Welcoming what he called belated measures, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay, vice president of the Finance and Audit Commission, said officials often spend more cash than necessary on official trips.
“Some who came back were not able to share what they have learned. This is a waste,” Chhay said, adding that the new measures should also be applied to parliamentarians and senators.
Transparency International executive director Preap Kol said he had previously accompanied officials abroad on a joint mission and observed some being “careless” and blowing off official duties to sightsee and shop.
He added: “Also, officials mostly lack knowledge of the English language, meaning they cannot carry out the missions completely. I think there should be consideration of this point as well.”