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Red tape ‘delays’ NEC computers

A man checks his personal details that were recorded by an official to a computer database during a trial of digital voter registration in Phnom Penh last year.
A man checks his personal details that were recorded by an official to a computer database during a trial of digital voter registration in Phnom Penh last year. Hong Menea

Red tape ‘delays’ NEC computers

With less than two months before voter registration is due to start for the upcoming commune elections, the delivery of vital computer equipment has reportedly been delayed by two weeks due to an import duty bungle, while only a fraction of the required workers have been hired.

National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Hang Puthea yesterday said equipment – paid for by the EU and procured by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) – due to arrive on July 15 remained at a Danish dock.

Puthea also said only 700 people out of a planned 7,000 had been hired to register the Kingdom’s 9.6 million voters. However, he was “confident” the NEC would be able to hire and train the workers in time.

UNOPS last week requested the NEC prepare a letter – certifying the equipment would be used as state property – to request tax exemption on the import of the election computers, which the NEC delivered.

“Even if the equipment is a gift or donation, in principle we must pay taxes unless there is a preferential treatment from the government,” he said.

When asked why the red tape was not dealt with sooner, Puthea said: “This is a question you should ask UNOPS. I don’t know what they do. They promised [the computers], but they did not arrive as expected.”

However, UNOPS spokesman Cillian Domhnall O’Cathail said the computers would be delivered in the agreed upon timeframe.

“We can confirm that delivery of the computers has been agreed with our project partners to take place by the end of July and that there are no tax issues impacting the receipt of the training goods,” he wrote in an email.

NEC member Top Rithy said the 2,400 HP computers were in Denmark and would be shipped to Cambodia by air. They were expected to touch down by the end of the month.

Bou Bunnara, chief of public relations at the government’s general department of customs and excise, said he did not know about the tax exemption requests for the electoral computers and could not make any further comment.

Koul Panha, from election watchdog NGO Comfrel, said while he did not think the two-week delay would impact the registration process too heavily, the NEC and government needed to do more to develop a “Plan B” for when obstacles like this arose.

“The NEC really needs to increase its efficiency . . . when the equipment arrives, they only have one month to install the programs and train people,” he said, adding the three-month registration process was due to begin on September 1.

“I think they should increase the number of people and maybe they need longer working hours to carry out the schedule.”

The EU did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

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