Investigation After Official Demands Money From Family to Cremate Covid-19 Dead

2 min read
Crematorium personnel wearing protective equipment wait as a body is cremated at Dangkao district’s Russei Sanh pagoda on July 14, 2021. (Mech Dara/VOD)

Say Phalla says that when her brother-in-law died of Covid-19 late last month, her family borrowed money to pay an official who demanded around $250 to cremate the body.

“He said he worked in the religion [department], and he asked, ‘You [must] prepare 1 million [riel] for the cremation,’” Phalla said on Tuesday. “How could we not pay, since they had already cremated the body, and they were still waiting to take our money. I gave it to them.”

The provincial administration told VOD no payments should have been asked of families of the Covid-19 dead, and police were now investigating the case. It also noted in a statement that more than half of the province’s Covid-19 corpses had yet to be cremated.

Phalla said her brother-in-law, Lach Lo, 42, died in late September after succumbing to Covid-19. At the time, she did not know that there was no fee for cremation, and trusted the official who demanded money, she said.

But this week, the family received back the 1 million riel, or about $250, after raising the issue, she said.

Kampong Chhnang provincial governor Sun Sovannarith said on Tuesday that the case had been sent to the provincial police, and a working group had been established to make sure it does not happen again.

“The one who committed wrongdoing will face administrative procedures because we do not have such a policy” to take money for Covid-19 cremations, he said. “When the body is involved in Covid-19, we take care of it all. … The person who takes money, it is a personal issue, it damages the reputation of the province. I told his excellency the deputy governor that it is strictly forbidden for this to happen again.”

Yong Kim Eng, director of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said strict action should be taken against the offending official.

“They are already suffering, and going to ask them for money, it makes people angry and upset,” he said.

According to the Kampong Chhnang provincial administration, 108 people have died of Covid-19 in the province as of Monday.

But only 45 of those bodies had so far been cremated with a mobile furnace, at a cost of 135 million riel, or about $34,000, it said in a statement. The remaining 63 bodies were scheduled to be cremated at a facility in Rolea Ba’ier district at a lower cost, it said.

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