Theary Seng is the Executive Director of the Center for Social Development, an NGO headquarter in Phnom Penh
When did the old board's term
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.
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.
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
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
What do the donors think of this
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.
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
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.
How can CSD move forward and resolve
CSD is moving
forward; this is a non-issue.
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
Additionally, it has created sympathy and empathy from the public who believe in
us and trust our voice and work.
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
should also be noted, we have an international auditing firm who has praised us
for our notable improvements from years before.