Almost five months after the government accepted full responsibility for the theft
of up to $2 million worth of rice from the UN's World Food Program (WFP), it has
yet to pay a single dollar in compensation to the aid agency.
Ramarat Sarabanamuttu, deputy country director of WFP, told the Post that although
correspondence has been exchanged, there remains no agreement on the value of the
stolen rice or when the WFP will be repaid.
"It's still ongoing. There hasn't been any substantial progress yet," said
Sarabanamuttu on January 25.
"Hopefully, sooner rather than later it would be repaid, either in cash or in-kind,
in rice," Sarabanamuttu said. "It is very complex. There are a number of
issues that need to be looked at."
Between January 2003 and April 2004 an estimated 4,000 metric tons of rice and other
food products were systematically misdirected by people involved in the WFP's Food
for Work scheme.
The theft involved government ministries, trucking companies, rice traders, commune
chiefs, and local government officers working in collusion with WFP distribution
staff, said the aid agency in August 2004.
Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to compensate the WFP after UN investigators found
the organization had been defrauded.
"The government is committed to dealing with corruption under the adopted Rectangular
Strategy, and we are taking this case very seriously," said Sean Visoth, Council
of Ministers spokesman, at the time.
The Food for Work scheme had allowed poor farmers to receive rice in exchange for
approved work, such as the building of local roads and other infrastructure. All
new Food for Work programs have been suspended since the fraud was discovered.
At the time, WFP Country Director Rebecca Hansen said "If [the government] did
not accept anything then we would have to seriously look at our future in Cambodia."