Mr. Sam Sotha, CMAC Director-General
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
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
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
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.
- Re-evaluation of staff to "assign the right skills to the right person".
- Personnel "evaluations" every six months.
- Recruitment of "a few more capable people".
- Increase attention to "quality control".
- Follow-up measures to "ensure that land demined is given to0 the right beneficiaries".
- An acceleration of the process of input of internal financial data "to show
more transparency in purchasing and inventory".