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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Looting fears linked to CMAC closure

Looting fears linked to CMAC closure

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Lieutenant-General Khem Sophoan, CMAC's new director-general

T

WO DAYS past a key deadline imposed by foreign donors for a series of internal reforms

demanded of the Cambodian Mine Action Center [CMAC], its new Director-General, Lieutenant-General

Khem Sophoan, admits that CMAC is still unable to fulfill at least two key donor

demands necessary to guarantee continued funding to the troubled demining agency

CMAC's inability to satisfy demands outlined in the "Draft Donor Framework for

Normalization of Relations with CMAC" presented to CMAC by its main foreign

donors on August 4, make the possibility of a shutdown of CMAC operations at the

end of October due to a shortage of funds appear increasingly likely.

The bluntly-worded document dictates a resumption of donor funding to cover November

and December 1999 dependent upon "...the completion of all immediate and the

majority of short-term (by Aug 31, 1999) tasks."

Foreign donors, who provide 95% of CMAC's operating budget, have frozen funding in

recent months in the wake of a succession of scandals revealing widespread financial

and operational irregularities, mismanagement and fraud.

CMAC currently has only enough funds to continue demining operations and pay employee

salaries until the end of October.

The impending shutdown, considered highly unlikely just weeks ago, has sparked fears

within CMAC that the agency's employees will respond to an expected freeze in monthly

salaries by looting CMAC equipment.

"We're afraid [a lack of funds] will create a situation similar to what occurred

when UNTAC pulled out and people stole everything they could get their hands on,"

one senior CMAC source explained.

The source added that CMAC management was already at work on a contingency plan to

help protect CMAC property such as computers and vehicles from being stolen by angry

employees.

While CMAC Director-General Khem Sophoan refused to confirm management apprehension

over a possible employee backlash to CMAC's funding crisis, he concedes that CMAC

was encountering difficulties meeting the donor demands.

"Mismanagement of [CMAC] operations in Demining Unit 3 (DU3) in Kampot, mismanagement

in [CMAC's] financial system and human resources issues are the biggest problems

we face," Sophoan said in reference to the donors demands on Monday.

The problems in DU3 stem from the discovery by CMAC's Quality Assurance Technical

Advisor, Stefan Carlsson, in July that DU3 had "contract demined" for Khmer

Rouge commander Chouk Rin and other non-humanitarian beneficiaries.

Resolution of the irregularities in DU3 was one of the demands that donors listed

as requiring "immediate" resolution.

Sophoan acknowledges that CMAC's efforts to vindicate DU3 of wrongdoing have so far

failed, in spite of a CMAC-sponsored junket to disputed minefields in Kampot two

weeks ago designed to allay donor concerns.

However, Sophoan verified that CMAC had abided by a related "immediate"

donor demand that the DU3 manager be "appropriately sanctioned" by confirming

that the DU3 manager, assistant manager and operations officer had all been "temporarily

suspended".

"We think it's mismanagement, not corruption," Sophoan said of the behavior

of the suspended trio. "They didn't follow the CMAC Integrated Work Plan."

Another "immediate" demand that remains unfulfilled is the donor requirement

that CMAC provide "immediate cooperation ... by releasing requested information"

to the accounting firm KPMG.

KPMG is currently performing a detailed audit of all CMAC finances, but has been

repeatedly stymied by a lack of necessary documentation from CMAC.

According to Sophoan, emergency meetings were planned on Aug 30 and 31 to brainstorm

measures to provide KPMG with the paperwork they require. However, it appeared unlikely

that CMAC would be able to supply KPMG with the required data before the donor-imposed

deadline.

The implications of a CMAC shutdown apparently already have donors backpedaling from

their original demands.

A diplomatic representative of one of the demining agency's main foreign donors denied

that the donors had presented CMAC with demands, preferring to refer to the Donor

Framework document as "a helpful guide to CMAC".

"It's not up to the donors to give [CMAC] an ultimatum," the source told

the Post. "It's not a case of 'You don't do this, there'll be this sanction'."

The source refused to specify how successfully CMAC had complied with the immediate

and short-term demands spelled out in the "Donor Framework".

"I don't think that's a useful exercise [to monitor CMAC's compliance with donor

demands]," the source said. "There may well be good reasons for one or

two [demands not met] ... we have to look at the broad basis, not just the dot/point."

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