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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CMAC reform process wracked by 'hidden crisis'

CMAC reform process wracked by 'hidden crisis'

Former Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) Director General Sam Sotha has blasted

factional in-fighting within the demining organization and political interference

by foreign donors for stalling CMAC's troubled reform process.

"Westerners [connected with CMAC] say there is no problem at CMAC, but as I

recently wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister, 'The hidden crisis [within CMAC]

westerners do not understand'," said Sotha, who was appointed Prime Minister

Hun Sen's Advisor on CMAC Affairs in Sep 1999. Sotha was dismissed as CMAC's Director

General at the request of donors following a series of scandals that continue to

haunt the agency.

Sotha's broadside comes less than a week after his failed attempt to reclaim a senior

CMAC management position.

On Feb 9 Prime Minister Hun Sen rejected a proposal in which Sotha would have replaced

Ieng Mouly as Chairman of CMAC's Governing Council in return for Mouly's appointment

to the chair of the newly-formed National Cambodian Demining Regulating Authority.

Sotha denied knowledge of the proposal.

"We have to forget about our own agendas," he said. "We have to forget

about the conflicts of the last year or two caused by the publication of anonymous

letters attacking [CMAC] management figures."

During Sotha's tenure as Director General, anonymous poison pen letters between supporters

of Sotha and staff who owed their loyalties to either Ieng Mouly, Chairman of CMAC's

Governing Council or former Director of Operations Pan Sothy frequently circulated

through the organization's Phnom Penh headquarters.

Although Sotha refused to specify the factions he referred to, sources within CMAC

have confirmed that the Sotha/Mouly rivalry has continued even though both men are

now physically removed from CMAC's daily operations, seriously undermining the authority

of current Director General Khem Sophoan.

Sotha blamed the intensified factional in-fighting on donor-mandated structural changes

and budgetary constraints.

"UNDP should put money in the fund for [CMAC's] Governing Council and allow

it to work, otherwise people will work to their own agendas," he said. Ninety-five

per cent of CMAC's budget is funneled through a UNDP-administered trust fund.

According to Sotha, donor insistence on CMAC reform has reached the level of interference

with the organization's operational integrity.

"Some donors have begun to play politics [with CMAC's future]," Sotha alleged

with regard to the ongoing struggle by CMAC management to convince foreign donors

to resume full funding to the agency.

"If you go to the field where deminers are at work, morale is down to zero ...

the pressure on deminers is hurting their effectiveness," he said.

Foreign donors slashed funding in mid-1999 following confirmation of widespread fraud

and mismanagement within CMAC.

Successive efforts by current CMAC management under Sophoan to restore donor confidence

in the agency have failed, and CMAC will exhaust its current budget by the end of

March unless new funding guarantees are secured.

The result, said Sotha, was a reform process that has been effectively paralyzed.

"Reform is so easy - why is it taking so long?" Sotha said in reference

to Sophoan's stalled plan to downsize CMAC's Phnom Penh headquarters and shift 215

of its 315 employees to a new "forward headquarters" in Battambang.

"Headquarters only needs 40-50 highly qualified staff ... [instead] so many

CMAC headquarters' staff just play games on their computers, then break the computers.

"Donors and factions within CMAC are pursuing their own agendas," Sotha

said.

"This is preventing effective demining efforts and is therefore preventing poverty

alleviation and development of Cambodia."

The UNDP issued a statement Feb 17 saying that they would "like to reiterate

that we must give CMAC sufficient stability and time to implement its reforms."

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