I was pleased to read in your issue dated Nov 4-17 1994 an article on the problem of corruption within the selection process for new customs officers of the Ministry of Economics and Finance (MEF). Since this is an important issue and since various allegations have been made about the extent of corruption in the Customs and Excise Department during my term of office, it may be helpful to clarify certain points.
1. Two batches of customs officers were recruited whilst I was Minister. The first consisted of 454 people, 22 of whom were nominated by the BLDP and the rest by Funcinpec. The inclusion of such people into the MEF and other Ministries was agreed between the parties comprising the Royal Government and was undertaken with the aim of national reconciliation and unifying the three former factional administrations.
The procedure was that the two parties formerly in the Resistance would choose their nominees, submit the names (of those not already civil servants) to the State Secretariat for the Civil Service who would then, after approval from the Council of Ministers, forward them to the various Ministeries.
As Minister, I therefore had no say in the lists of people submitted by Funcinpec and BLDP for entrance into the Customs and Excise Department. Moreover, since the aim was to unify three separate administrations, it was not appropriate to organize a public recruitment on the basis of open, competitive examination, as I would have preferred.
By contrast, when the MEF wished to recruit fifty people to fill the newly established positions of financial controllers in early 1994, we organized such a competitive examination, open to any person within or outside the Ministry, and made the recruitment solely on the basis of each candidate's score.
Nonetheless, even in the case of the new customs officers, a compulsory three month training course was organized for them all and, prior to leaving office, I gave instructions that their future positions should be decided on the basis of an end-of-training examination.
It is a matter of record that extensive irregularities included, for example, the payment of up to $5,000, or even more, to people involved in preparing the list, and the repeated buying-and-selling of the names of those people already on, or entitled to be included on, the list. These irregularities led to a stream of complaints and protests. In an effort to seriously address the issue, I wrote on 7 March 7 and May 28, 1994 to Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh in his capacity as President of Funcinpec, presenting evidence of these irregularities and asking that Funcinpec organize a committee to investigate the irregularities and severely punish those party members involved.
Sadly, although Prince Ranariddh endorsed my suggestion, no such committee was organized and no investigation undertaken by the Party apparatus.
2. Subsequent to this first batch, all recruitment and transfers into the Customs Department were suspended. In my last couple of weeks as Minister, a huge number of people came to my office requesting appointment or transfer to the Customs Department of the basis that they were genuine Funcinpec members who had been unfairly treated in the initial selection. Most of these requests were shelved. There were, however, a certain number of people who, it seemed to me, had given significant service to the Funcinpec Party before the elections and should, in all fairness, have been included in the first batch.
In my last days in office, I tried to do my best to redress any wrongs or injustice which remained in my power to correct. I therefore authorized the additional inclusion of more than seventy people into the Customs Department. This included about a dozen people from within the Ministry who had served for a number of years in very lowly positions (such as cleaning the floors or serving water to visitors) and who begged to move to the Customs Department or the National Treasury in order to be able to benefit from the occasional trip that might be offered. Wishing to do some good, I did my best to meet their requests.
My decisions were solely motivated by the desire to help individual people who, I believed, deserved such help; in no case did I receive even one riel for these actions. Should anyone claim that they paid me any money in this connection, I am prepared to go with them to court, or to swear in front of the Preah Ang Dang Kal (a Buddhist image in front of the Royal Palace believed by Cambodians to possess great power), and to pay them $1,000 for each dollar they can prove I received. Many of the people concerned had received tips from me to support their meagre salaries during my term of office; how, at the end, could I turn round and start asking them for money?
Sometimes it seems that certain individuals who are themselves greedy and only do things for personal gain wish to project those same motivations onto others. Such people can no longer recognize acts stemming from simple generosity and unselfishness, having lost such feelings in themselves.
3. It has recently been alleged that, as Minister, I tolerated extensive corruption within the MEF and particulartly in the Department of Customs and Excise. It is a fact that corruption, which had become institutionalized over the previous decade-and-a-half, continues in the Customs Department.
But throughout my term of office I tried to take all possible steps to eliminate that corruption. Thus, for example, soon after becoming Minister I tried to change the long-standing head of the Customs Department as a prelude to reform, believing that example has to come from the top. Subsequently, I requested permission to take administrative action, including demotion and suspension, for those customs officers caught indulging in large-scale corruption.
I further attempted to introduce an independent pre-shipment inspection sevice, which was solely designed to eliminate the under-invoicing of goods which customs officers were either unable or unwilling to prevent.
All of these initiatives were blocked by the two Prime Ministers.
Nonetheless, during the short period of 15 months that I was in office, the average monthly amount of customs revenue increased more than three-fold, from 9 billion to 30 billion riel per month.
This increase was primarily due to a reduction in corruption, revenue previously going into private pockets now entering the state coffers. I believe this is an adequate testament to my anti-corruption efforts and wish my replacement success in continuing this struggle.
- Sam Rainsy MP, Nov 12