Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Medical students learn to operate at the University of Health Sciences in Phnom Penh last year. A shipment of medical equipment bound for Cambodia has been stalled after the Health Ministry failed to agree on an MoU with Cambodian-American doctor and oknha Quach Mengly. Athena Zelandonii

MoU ‘holding up’ donation

Millions of dollars’ worth of medical equipment bound for Cambodia has allegedly been stalled thanks to a contested memorandum of understanding sought by outspoken doctor and oknha Quach Mengly.

In an interview yesterday, Mengly clarified comments he made on his Facebook page earlier this week, saying he was seeking an MoU for the tax-free import of 20 to 30 surgical beds, costing some $250,000 apiece, which he said were donated by a Swiss organisation and destined for government hospitals.

“I notice the Ministry of Health, they said they did not receive any statement; it is not true. We have received a verbal rejection,” Mengly said.

The Ministry of Health on Tuesday released a statement saying it had “never received” an MoU request from Mengly or his eponymous foundation, but Mengly yesterday claimed the government was mistaken. “I do not believe it is the policy of the ministry or the intent of the government, I believe it might be an individual who is still holding a grudge.”

Mengly referred to strident critiques he made of Cambodia’s dire health care system in the past. In an interview with Post Khmer in January last year, for instance, he said, “If poor people go to the hospital, I guarantee that they will sleep on the street.”

Mengly said he has plans to open a medical clinic behind the Russian Hospital in Phnom Penh but has not yet lodged an application. He said he had received a warning from a messenger inside the ministry, whom he declined to name, saying “don’t count on the licence”.

“We were told it is most likely we will not get it, for the simple reason it is under my name,” he said. He added that it would be a “shame” for an individual to block his efforts to develop the country’s health care system and stressed that the government had supported his endeavours in the past.

Mengly was also concerned that the routine upgrade of his membership to the Cambodian Medical Council had not been renewed since last October, which could leave him in legal limbo and have a domino effect on his charity projects.

Ministry of Health spokespeople did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the last two days, but the Tuesday statement urged Mengly “to respect the law”.

Opposition lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth, head of the National Assembly’s health commission, urged the Ministry of Health to ensure an MoU application had not been misplaced.

“It would be helping Cambodia, so they should provide him [the MoU] despite his past [statements]. He has the resources to help,” she said.

Her views were echoed by San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability-Cambodia.

“I think the Ministry of Health reaction should be more accountable by checking or investigating if there was any possible delay on the application,” he said, adding he had no doubt the case was tinged by Mengly’s past critiques.

In an about-face yesterday afternoon, Mengly asked The Post to drop the story in a bid to put an end to the sensitive issue and prevent any friction with the government.

“On the record, I do not approve of or accept responsibility for what is published today,” he said last night.