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State Coffers Receive $60M for Virus Fight; Gov’t Yet to Release Detailed Accounting

Officials from the Cambodian Ministry of Health and country representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) held a joint press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 20, 2020. (Kan Vicheika/VOA Khmer)

As of Tuesday, Cambodia had a total of 122 reported cases of the coronavirus respiratory disease and 110 recoveries.

The Cambodian government has so far received at least $60 million in donations and foreign aid, on top of a $30 million budgetary allocation, to fight the novel coronavirus, though providing little accounting for the usage of these funds.

Officials have only recently provided some amount of transparency in the number of funds collected to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, Cambodia had a total of 122 reported cases of the respiratory disease and 110 recoveries.

Public calls for donations, including government officials’ giving up months of salary for the cause, resulted in $13.5 million in collections, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a Facebook post on Friday.

This was on top of the $2.1 million given by the U.S., $1.6 million from Germany, some $20 million from Japan and around $20 million from the World Bank. These allocations included direct fund transfers and medical equipment.

Additionally, China has donated an unspecified amount of aid, in the form of reagents used for testing, masks, protective gears, and traditional medicines, in 18 packages through chartered flights, the Health Ministry said.

Health Ministry Secretary of State Yok Sambath said all these funds were in addition to the $30 million taken from the state budget in early March to fight the spread of the respiratory disease.

“With zero new infections in the past week, it appears to be a better situation,” Yok Sambath told VOA Khmer after a press conference on Monday. “We can save some more of the budget if there are no new infections in the coming weeks.”

Around $10.5 million had been spent so far, Yok Sambath said, including a $1 million allocation for the mass quarantine of around 15,000 garment workers. Asked for a breakup of the figures, she added that $4.5 million was used from the national budget and $6 million from the donated funds.

Key spending areas would be on 11 million surgical and N95 masks, 35,000 sets of personal protective equipment (PPE), and an additional daily wage of $50 for about 3,000 frontline medical workers, Sambath added.

Asked about how long the existing budgets and resources could handle the epidemic fight, Yok Sambath said briefly: “It is not a problem.”

No detailed budgetary documents or numerical statistics were given by the ministry to account for all these expenses. The ministry only revealed that it cost around $2,000 to $2,500 to treat a single person for around 10 days in the hospital and that each test cost between $100 and $120.

So far, there have been 122 patients treated for the respiratory disease, and over 9,000 tests, involving close to 6,000 individuals, conducted in the country.

An independent attempt by VOA Khmer on Friday to request such documents and figures at the Health Ministry, where the National Committee for Combating COVID-19 is located and accepts funds, was not successful and officials stationed at the donation desks ignoring requests for such documents nor providing a detailed description of income and expenditure.

San Chey, executive director at the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the government is obliged to publicly provide figures and statistics of its anti-virus fund’s financial activities.

“The regular updates of figures will be an encouragement to the donors,” San Chey said. “So that they could have access to information on how their money is being spent and in what areas.”