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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Interview with Theary Seng

Interview with Theary Seng

Theary Seng is the Executive Director of the Center for Social Development, an NGO headquarter in Phnom Penh

1)      
When did the old board's term

expire?
November 2007.  Madam Peung Yok Hiep

and Mr. Vi Houi never formally renewed their positions.  Chea Vannath is NOT,

has never been a CSD Board  member.  All three have expressly said to donors, to

consultants, to Organizational Review members, to CSD staff and management that

they are not interested in being Board members.  Hence, we find their action

that much more baffling.

2)      
Why do you think they are so

reluctant to relinquish their positions on the CSD board?
We live in a society where power is

status, status is power.  They believe that CSD has influence and thus power. 

Simply put, the answer is power.

When I

took on this role of executive director 2 ¼ years ago, I had 28 staff and

encountered a tsunami of institutional, historical problems which had been

accumulating for at least the last 10 years of mismanagement and a power

struggle between 2 heads who hardly spoke with each other - an internal power

and the public face.  The 4 member Board wanted  nothing to do with the

historical implosion and was happy to let my staff and me clean up the mess and

play the role simultaneously of management and of Board.  It is only when we

have stabilized the situation and dramatically grew in scope and portfolio, not

to mention national and international recognition, that the Board decided to

exploit their formal status by manipulating the vagaries, unclear roles and

responsibilities - actually outright lack of Board accountability structure - of

the Constitution.

3)      
Why are they trying to remove you

(executive director)? What grounds do they give for this?

Absolutely no grounds.  As to

motivation, who knows?  As who can understand irrationality and

envy?

4)      
What do the donors think of this

all?
The donors are rightly as baffled and

frustrated as we all are.  They are very supportive of CSD and our activities. 

One or two may be not be used to having a Cambodian woman speak and interact

with them as their equals, so again baffling in another regard.

5)      
Why have things escalated (for

example, their bringing military police with them to CSD and releasing media

statements) to this extent?
The acts of these 3 individuals (2 former Board, one

former executive director) have been ones of obstruction, destruction and

immaturity; they reflect a sad and desperate attempt at power, so desperate that

they believe they could use illegal MoI force with impunity; very destructive

and immature in their use of publicity, to use the threat of destroying CSD as a

bargaining chip.  How they have acted and their mentality is not very different

from the larger mentality of relying on brute power and connections to get one's

way.

6)      
When was the new board elected and

who was involved in this process?

For over one year, we were without a functioning

Board.  The issue of Board membership had been on the table for discussion for

many months, with the process of nomination opened to the former existing Board

members, the Management Committee and donors.  Hence, the new Board members came

about after opening the floor for nomination to all these individuals and

stakeholders and opening the floor for voting to the former Board members and

Management Committee members.   

7)      
How can CSD move forward and resolve

this crisis?
CSD is moving

forward; this is a non-issue.

8)      
Do you think this internal dispute

will harm the important work CSD does in Cambodia?

No, to the contrary.  It has made my staff so much

stronger in their ownership and solidarity.  It has chipped away at all our

unhealthy naivete and unconditional trust of foreigners and people with

seniority of age and status.  The best way to learn a valuable lesson is in the

caldron of experience.  We are learning our lessons well, the main one being

that every challenge is really only an opportunity in

disguise. 

Additionally, it has created sympathy and empathy from the public who believe in

us and trust our voice and work.

9)      
Where does the Chief Financial

Officer stand on this? Do you have the full support of all your staff?

The Finance Manager is superb !  My

staff are superb !  I am so proud of each of them.  I am truly honored to be

working with each of them.  Many of them are more than staff but friends and

"family". 

It

should also be noted, we have an international auditing firm who has praised us

for our notable improvements from years before.

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