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Dubious practices

I was so impressed with your coverage of the story regarding the human rights NGO's

in Cambodia, which appeared as a front page story "Fraud probe into human rights

group" by Robert Carmichael (V. 11, N 6, March 15 - 28, 2002).

I have been coming to Cambodia regularly over the last 4 years with the specific

aim of conducting research on Cambodian non-government organizations for my doctoral

thesis in the area of development. I am not familiar with the human rights organizations

because my focus has been women's NGO's based in Phnom Penh. Which is what prompted

me to write to you because the issues and problems raised in your paper mirror the

problems which exist among ALL the women's NGO's that I monitored, researched and

interviewed in Phnom Penh.

The worst ones are those which have a director who is also the founder. They abound

with hierarchical systems that can be likened to a master/slave relationship. This

is manifested in the oppression of their staff, mis-handling of funds, and often

using the funds and assets of the organization for the director's own personal purposes.

One women's organization in particular, which used to be part of the women's association

of the government, has a director that lives on the premises. She occupies several

rooms for herself, uses all the assets of the organization including the car for

only her personal use, and her staff said that only her rooms are air-conditioned

24 hours a day. The staff are scared to approach the donors because they think their

jobs will be jeopardized.

Despite these very obvious signs of misappropriation of funds and incredibly high

salaries, and constant overseas trips, no donor or governing board addresses these

issues. I know in my native country, the people give very generously to aid organizations

because they think the aid agency is helping the poor people of Cambodia. Not sub-contracting

agencies like local NGOs that I saw build personal fortunes, status, privilege, and

power over peoples lives. Where do poor people fit into this equation? What do these

wonderful missions and visions really mean?

I also discovered the loans projects they have to supposedly help poor people and

in particularly poor women, yet these women have to pay 5% interest a month, which

adds up to 60% interest a year. In which country in the world does a bank or an organization

that wants to help women "develop" charge these unjust rates. Does this

accumulation of poor women's hard-earned cash from their labor contribute to a healthy

bank account earning high interest rates for the Director to spend.

The other major issue I encountered in my research and interviews with staff of these

women's organizations is that they employ their entire families to work in the NGO

so that international aid money takes over the role of patron duties rather than

the directors having to use part of their own salary to assist their family members.

During my research and extensive interviewing, I discovered this information of exploitation

very easily, so I really had to ask myself "do the donors know this but are

allowing it to happen-until it becomes so evident that they are forced to match action

with rhetoric?"

Why is the Cambodian government not regulating the work of the LNGOs? All aid organizations

in the West are regulated by the state and their financial records are made public.

This is a basic requirement of transparency. Is there not a code of ethics that organizations

are accountable to? How can these organizations claim that the government is corrupt

when they are worse than the government because they are deceitful in their practices?

They appeal to the international community to receive funding and do something very

different to what they claim they are doing.

I would like to sincerely commend your paper for taking up a courageous task known

as social responsibility and expose publicly what I am sure everyone involved in

the development sector already knows but to save themselves they condone an injustice

to the poor people of Cambodia-the very people that the public in industrialized

countries give to under the premise of alleviating poverty. The donor organizations

that are involved in the case investigated by the Phnom Penh Post should also be

congratulated for taking a stance and not deliberately ignoring the reality. I would

gladly recommend giving donations to you.

In my work in Latin America this situation would never happen because it would be

exposed by others in the sector. Here it appears as silence among all the NGOs, maybe

because they are all doing the same thing. Shame on the donors that condone these

practices and do not investigate the organizations they give money to.



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