A Kampong Thom province village chief has been removed after allegedly taking a woman’s IDPoor payments over several months, one of more than 14,000 irregularities authorities have found since June in the country’s anti-poverty program that was expanded amid the global pandemic.
The IDPoor program, which entitles recipients to free health care, discounted public utilities and, since Covid-19 hit, direct cash handouts, has been rolled out to 700,000 families comprising 2 million people, according to the Planning Ministry.
Kampong Svay district’s Damrei Slap commune chief Ying Heap said Damrei Slap village chief Luong Lok had been removed earlier this month following a complaint from the family of Khmum Nav, 63, that Lok was taking Nav’s IDPoor payments.
“The village chief was the one withdrawing the money — the family faced difficulties,” Heap said.
Nav’s daughter had called Lok asking about IDPoor, and recorded him saying that Nav, who has a mental disability, did not have an IDPoor card, the commune chief said.
The payment was for about $36 a month, Heap said, adding that the family was now suing Lok for $10,000 in compensation.
Lok’s son-in-law, who was struggling to make ends meet, was receiving the money, Heap said.
Heap said the commune administration had agreed last year that the money could go to the son-in-law because Nav was living outside the commune, in Battambang province. But the commune had not known that Lok lied to the family about what was going on, Heap said.
Lok, the village chief, said Nav had received her IDPoor card long ago, but as she was not in the village, the money was available.
“My son asked me to get this because he was also poor,” Lok said. “I had seen him coming back from Thailand with nothing, and cheated, and told him you can take it but you have to hand it back to her when she returns.”
Lok said he was confused when the family called him asking about the card and payments.
“I have apologized and asked for forgiveness since it is my mistake. I agreed to hand back the IDPoor card and the money but they won’t accept it,” he said.
The former village chief added that 78 of 193 families in the village were identified as eligible for IDPoor benefits.
Heap, the commune chief, said many families had struggled as migrant workers returned home jobless, penniless and at times sick.
“During Covid, people became poor because they didn’t have any business or jobs, so we tried to help them to have some money to support their families’ living day by day,” she said.
Planning Ministry spokesperson Nop Kornavuth said the ministry had withdrawn about 14,500 IDPoor cards over various irregularities since June last year. Complaints to the ministry, including through Facebook, have been countless, he said.
Some people had been denied benefits because they did not get along with commune authorities, while some officials prioritized giving benefits to their own families, including by reporting families as bigger than they actually were in order to inflate benefits, Kornavuth said.
“They put their siblings in,” he said. “They collude with each other, and the officials who organize the work cheat by putting better families on the list and adding more members into some families.”
Officials found to be involved in such irregularities would face administrative punishment, he said.