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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CMAC problems 'small stuff' says boss

CMAC problems 'small stuff' says boss

somsotha.jpg
somsotha.jpg

Mr. Sam Sotha, CMAC Director-General

I

T'S BEEN a busy week at the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC).

The acrimonious resignations of three top UN Technical Advisors coincided with an

attempt by the Chairman of CMAC's Governing Council, Ieng Mouly, to have CMAC's UNDP

Program Coordinator removed from his post

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Finance audit of Royal Government funding for the demining

agency revealed embarrassing financial wrongdoing at the very top of the organization.

But for CMAC Director-General Sam Sotha, it's still just business as usual. "CMAC

is moving forward," Sotha enthused in a Jun 23 interview with the Phnom Penh

Post.

The almost three months of almost routine revelations about everything from alleged

misappropriation of demining funds to illegal "contract demining" for private

interests Sotha dismisses as "small stuff".

"CMAC tries its best," Sotha said in reference to the litany of charges

that have plagued his administration since April. "Donor countries have to understand

the efforts made by CMAC ... why do they always comment on the small stuff?"

Some of the newest "small stuff" for Sotha to grapple with comes from a

Ministry of Finance audit of Royal Government funding for CMAC released to CMAC's

Governing Council on Jun 22.

Along with concluding that CMAC's Assistant Director had misappropriated government

funds between 1996 and 1998, the audit discovered that all financial documentation

for the organization from 1993 to Oct 1995 had gone missing.

Lost in the shuffle, says Sotha. "CMAC was moving from UNTAC control to [national]

control ... capacity was burgeoning," he explained. "Since I've been Director

General in 1996 [financial management] has been very strict."

More trouble lies ahead in the form of another soon-to-be-released audit of CMAC

finances.

The first phase of a 1998 audit by the foreign accounting firm KPMG has, according

to a high-level CMAC official, found multiple instances of "dubious" accounting.

"It's a lot of small stuff, about between US$100 and US$1000 each," the

source said. "There were [discrepancies] like advances not acquitted or not

acquitted accurately, and expenses not properly vouchered."

The KPMG revelations bode ill for the planned release in August of a more comprehensive

KPMG audit of finances from Nov 1993 to Dec 1998.

According to the CMAC source, any further strain on donor confidence could quash

desperately needed funding for the agency.

"Right now CMAC has about US$4.5 million in its budget, but has salary expenses

alone that eat up US$535,000 per month," the source explained. "Already,

CMAC is making plans to revise its spending, otherwise it'll run out of money before

the end of October."

Canadian Ambassador Gordon Longmuir, representing one of CMAC's most generous long-term

donors, was more optimistic about the possibility of an impending CMAC cash crunch.

"I don't foresee any problems with [CMAC] funding."

While waiting for the audits to be completed, Sotha claims to have been vindicated

with regard to suggestions in an internal CMAC document leaked to the Phnom Penh

Post two weeks ago alleging skewed CMAC statistics and possible "contract demining"

by Kampot demining units.

"I don't recognize that report ...it's false," Sotha said angrily, before

adding that he had not personally seen the report.

Sotha supplied the Post with a follow-up report on the allegations by CMAC Technical

Advisor Captain J P LeVasseur, which Sotha said proved the leaked document was the

product of "stupid people".

However, a glance at LeVasseur's report still leaves important questions unanswered.

In particular, the issue of discrepancies between demining units 'weekly reports

and concluding reports remains "under investigation" while the most serious

allegation regarding contract demining is described by LeVasseur as "yet [to

be] answered".

Sotha also responded angrily to charges of nepotism against himself and Ieng Mouly

by such people as SRP MP Son Chhay and Funcinpec Senator Kem Sokha.

"I have only one blood relative in Cambodia," Sotha fumed, over rumors

that he's installed at least four relatives at CMAC.

Sotha admitted that his brother is employed by CMAC as a driver.

"He won't advance [within CMAC] with influence from me," he emphasized.

""I've told my Chief of Staff that if anyone uses my name to get a job,

to kick them out [of the office]."

Reflecting over CMAC's recent tribulations, Sotha urged his critics to "Forget

the past [but] learn from the past".

"Let's help CMAC to move to new directions."

In and out: a CMAC scorecard

CMAC-watchers were kept on their toes this week by a rash of top level UNOPS staff

resignations and an attempt by CMAC Governing Council Chairman Ieng Mouly to have

the organization's UNDP Program Coordinator fired.

UN Support Advisor Stuart Press, Finance Advisor Caroline Muller and Planning Advisor

Tom McCartern resigned en masse on Jun 22.

The resignations followed what CMAC insiders have described as angry, high-volume

confrontations between Warren and both Press and McCartern in front of an aghast

crowd of fellow CMAC employees outside CMAC Headquarters.

The three ex-employees and Richard Warren were unavailable for comment, but there

have been persistent rumors within the organization that Press, McCartern and Muller

had long been pressing for Warren's removal from CMAC.

CMAC Director-General Sam Sotha was surprisingly philosophical about the sudden walkout

of three of his top foreign Technical Assistants.

"Anywhere you go, there are people who can't work together," Sotha said

of the resignations.

Warren was again in the spotlight at the end of last week when Ieng Mouly publicly

announced his decision to have Warren removed from his post.

That turned out to be easier said than done.

"UNDP informed us that [firings of UNDP staff] just wasn't done like that,"

explained CMAC Director-General Sam Sotha. "If [Warren] was removed so quickly,

we would have to worry about [organizational] stability."

Warren, according to Sotha, has since "been asked to stay on awhile".

A CMAC insider described the three resignations and Mouly's move against Warren as

a failed "palace coup".

"[The three UNOPS] employees joined with Sam Sotha and Ieng Mouly to have Warren

removed and lost," the source said.

Announced internal reforms

According to CMAC Director-General Sam Sotha, the following package of internal reforms

were announced during Tuesday's meeting of CMAC's Governing Council.

  1. Re-evaluation of staff to "assign the right skills to the right person".
  2. Personnel "evaluations" every six months.
  3. Recruitment of "a few more capable people".
  4. Increase attention to "quality control".
  5. Follow-up measures to "ensure that land demined is given to0 the right beneficiaries".
  6. An acceleration of the process of input of internal financial data "to show

    more transparency in purchasing and inventory".

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