Two officials from the Ministry of Tourism were found by the ministry to have taken bribes of up to $3,000 from candidates for tour-guide examinations in Siem Reap, though neither of the officials have been fired.
A letter to the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) from Minister of Tourism Thong Khon this week said that Department of Training Director Ten Rattana and Deputy Director of Siem Reap Tourism In Sokea had accepted bribes of between $1,500 and $3,000 from training course candidates in exchange for accreditation as tour guides.
The ACU also received anonymous complaints that Rattana stole nearly 41 million riel (more than $10,000) from the project budget for “his own interest”, and had taken another 12.5 million riel (about $3,125) from the budget allocated to hiring teachers and coordinators.
Following a probe by the ministry in May, Rattana confessed to both charges. Sokea meanwhile accepted further allegations that the pair committed “corruption and fraud of $3,600” in a separate incident in October 2014.
Thong’s letter confirmed that both officials would be removed from their positions, but remain in the ministry, with Rattana allocated a new role as ministry adviser and Sokea downgraded to an official post within the same department.
The letter also claims that the ministry had conducted a “joint commission” into Siem Reap training institutes associated with the officials, with at least one hospitality school acknowledging that “mistakes had been made in relation to training”.
“The school has accepted the mistakes and promised to improve its record,” said Thong, who could not be reached for additional comment yesterday.
Local tour operators in Siem Reap were reluctant to speak about bribery, but representatives of two different providers who wished to remain anonymous acknowledged that corruption was rife in industry practices and accreditation schemes.
Other tour guides confirmed reports of extortion in government-run training institutions.
“I myself have never experienced that, but I heard some men paid around $1,500 for the tour guide exam,” said Kong Sopheara, a tour guide in Siem Reap.
Anti-corruption campaigners have meanwhile questioned punitive measures taken by the government against offenders in its ranks.
“The shuffle, [which sometimes looks like a promotion] of officials involved in corruption, sets a dirty example in the fight against corruption, especially regarding law enforcement,” Transparency International executive director, Kol Preap, said in response to the developments at the Ministry of Tourism.
“There are provisions in the Anti-Corruption Law to punish officials . . . in corruption cases such as these ones.
Thus, it would be a disappointment and another case of impunity if the officials are found to be corrupt but will not be prosecuted according to the laws.”
Under the Criminal Code, accepting a bribe as a public official carries a sentence of seven to 15 years in prison. Neither of the accused officials could be reached.