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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Aussie envoy takes CMAC strife in stride

Aussie envoy takes CMAC strife in stride

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Malcolm Leader

A FTER enduring four months of near-weekly revelations of fraud and mismanagement

at the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader

has reaffirmed that Australian support for CMAC remains firm.

"We remain committed to playing an active part in eliminating land mines [in

Cambodia}," Leader told the Post in an interview on July 20. "We see CMAC

as an important way of doing that."

Leader was the only representative of CMAC's main foreign donors to consent to be

interviewed by the Post about donor attitudes toward the scandal-plagued demining

organization.

A spokesperson for United States Ambassador Kenneth Quinn notified the Post that

Quinn declined to be interviewed for lack of "anything helpful to contribute".

Canadian Ambassador Gordon Longmuir failed to respond to the Post's request for an

interview.

Leader admitted that the past few months have not been easy for CMAC's foreign donors.

"Donors of course have been jolted by revelations over the past few months,"

Leader said, "but they aren't the end of the world."

Instead, Leader explained that Australia prefers to look forward rather than dwell

on the revelations of fraud that have wracked CMAC since April of this year.

"We've obviously been trying to get CMAC back on its feet again," Leader

said, adding "we're keenly aware of the good that CMAC has done over the years."

Complicating Australian attempts to restore CMAC's credibility has been evidence

that CMAC demined land for Chouk Rin, currently facing criminal charges for the kidnap

and murder of Australian backpacker David Wilson and his French and British companions

in 1994.

"[CMAC] has not been helped by allegations that [Chouk Rin] might have benefited

[from CMAC demining]," Leader said.

However, Leader stressed that donors' concerns about CMAC go beyond the peculiar

circumstances of Rin's possession of CMAC-demined land.

"{Rin] is a sensitive issue with us and the Brits and the French," Leader

conceded. "But we must not get fixated on that part [of CMAC's problems] ...

[Rin's case] is just one of a whole series of things that are being looked at [by

donors]."

An important component of those other factors being considered by CMAC's donors are

the results of two recently completed audits of Cambodian government funding for

CMAC done by KPMG and the Ministry of Finance respectively.

According to Leader, both audits "showed there were real problems... [and] sufficient

evidence of financial problems [for donors] to be concerned."

Although he refused to go into details of the problems the first two audits uncovered,

Leader stressed that donors had been frank with CMAC management that "serious

and drastic action" needed to be taken to remedy financial management irregularities.

To back up its demands, Leader confirmed that Australia had decisively turned off

the taps on future funding to CMAC until further notice. "It's been made clear

to CMAC that Australian government contributions are really on hold until donor concerns

are sorted out," Leader said.

One of the most immediate of those concerns is the results of the third, comprehensive

KPMG audit of CMAC finances expected in August.

While emphasizing that "it's important not to jump to conclusions" about

the results of the coming audit report, Leader indicates further evidence of financial

impropriety within CMAC will evoke a strong donor response.

"I think that donors will want to see CMAC address the [potential] problems

[that may be revealed by third audit] as a matter of urgency," Leader explained.

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