Prime Minister Hun Sen warns that he will take swift action and impose harsh penalties on any responsible parties if any unexplained financial irregularities are found in any village or commune relating to the provision of cash to the poor intended as part of the government’s Covid-19 relief efforts.
The warning followed reports that more than 14,000 irregular cases had been identified by officials, possibly indicating the presence of widespread corruption and routine misuse of these funds.
In his Facebook post late on December 23, Hun Sen said: “This programme significantly contributes to the improvement and stabilisation of people’s lives during this difficult time, which hasn’t even ended yet since Covid-19 remains an immediate threat.
“It is vital that the poor families for whom this cash is intended are able to receive this allowance because without it they face severe hardship.”
The prime minister said the cash handout to the poor and vulnerable depends almost entirely on local authorities, especially village chiefs and commune councils. Therefore, all relevant authorities and responsible citizens must strive to do this work accurately, clearly, transparently and accountably, and adhere to the highest standards of justice.
He said authorities must be diligent in their oversight of this programme to prevent collusion between those administering the funds and any attempts to include their family, relatives, friends or anyone who is not really poor.
In order to further improve the efficiency of these Covid-19 relief efforts, Hun Sen advised the Ministry of Interior to cooperate with the Ministry of Planning and other relevant ministries and institutions at all levels to monitor the implementation of these programmes and make sure they are operating as intended. He also gave orders to the effect that if any abnormalities occur again they are to notify him immediately.
Planning ministry spokesman Srey Da told The Post on December 24 that the ministry had so far found irregularities such as families with incomes too high to qualify for this aid programme having obtained benefit cards.
The ministry had already confiscated more than 14,400 benefit cards that had been issued to people who should not have received them.
“The planning ministry continues to address any issues that arise in the identification of poor households. We now have a team standing by to investigate any further reports of irregularities in the media or social media posts,” he said.
At the same time, he said the ministry continues to search for families that had fallen into poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic, pledging that he will not allow those families to be left alone to starve.
The ministry will help them immediately following an interview to determine their poverty level and they will then be qualified to receive government support.
According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, survey results regarding the implementation of the cash handout programme for poor and vulnerable families during the fight against Covid-19 showed that 99.1 per cent of respondents had expressed their satisfaction after receiving government subsidies.
Many said this cash handout programme was implemented right when they were facing their most dire financial difficulties. They also expressed broad satisfaction with the procedures for verification and cash withdrawal.
From its launch in June until the end of November, a total of 704,135 families across the country have received a cash handout from this programme, an impressive result given that few of the recipients have ever even owned a bank account previously.
The number of households increased from 526,686 in June to 704,135 in November, costing the government around $175 million.
On December 24, the government also issued a press release offering guidance on additional measures to manage the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on key sectors of the economy in order to get through the crisis and then the rehabilitation period afterwards in order to finally return to full economic growth.
The government has decided to continue to provide a stipend of $40 per month to each worker from the garment, textile, footwear, travelling products and bags industries who has been suspended for an additional three months, starting from January to March 2021. Factory and enterprise owners in this sector have to pay an additional $30 for each worker – a total of $70 in aid per month to each worker.