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Controversial Rice Aid Hailed a Success

The Asian Development Bank and government announced success on Friday for emergency food assistance that was widely criticized by villagers as unfair.

The ADB and government undertook a $40-million emergency food distribution between Oct. 29 and Nov. 5, handing out nearly 120,000 tons to 68,000 poor families in 200 communes around the Tonle Sap lake and in Phnom Penh.

“The assistance is making a very real difference in the lives of Cambodia’s most vulnerable, in particular its children,” Arjun Goswami, ADB country director, said in a statement.

The aid was in response to rising food and fuel prices that have squeezed Cambodia’s poorest, but a number of villagers complained that the distribution was plagued by corruption and favoritism by local leaders.

“Unfortunately, the project’s funding simply could not cover all of those families in need of food assistance,” Goswami said. “It is understandable that some of those who could not be reached with assistance feel let down.”

A statement from the Minister of Economy and Finance called the emergency distribution “highly positive, except in one commune in Kampong Chhnang province, where the distribution was suspended because of villagers’ protests.”

The ADB and government said they would conduct further investigations into distribution irregularities starting Nov. 17.

“The protests that were mentioned in the media, it’s not sure they are true, but we have a mechanism to check,” said Vong Sandab, deputy secretary-general of the Ministry of Finance, who was in charge of the distribution.

The ADB has so far received 51 phone complaints of distribution irregularities, said Long Piseth, program officer at the ADB.