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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - With SMF’s closure, donor queries grow

With SMF’s closure, donor queries grow

The disgraced Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) announced early on Saturday morning that it had closed its doors once and for all, leaving long-term supporters with a brief message of gratitude and goodbyes.

Its closure came after years of allegations, culminating in a Newsweek report in May that its founder and namesake had lied about her own back story and those of some of the supposed sex-trafficking victims the organisation was created to support.

“As of September 30, we officially ceased all operations, ended all grant funding, and permanently closed our doors,” an announcement signed by SMF’s former board of directors reads.

The decision reflected a turnaround from an announcement in June, which said the organisation would be “rebranding, renaming and re-launching”, but did not address the reasons for this.

Following news of its closure, SMF’s website was promptly shut down, and its former staff’s email accounts cancelled. But with SMF no longer in existence, supporters and donors have been left with a number of unanswered questions.

Saturday’s statement, which fails to address the fate of those formally in its care, calls on its staff and supporters to direct their support to the “many outstanding organisations” that are “driven by transparency, integrity and service … while dedicated to the eradication of trafficking and slavery.”

But the announcement does not make any reference to where the thousands of dollars donated by its supporters may have gone.

On the former foundation’s social media pages, donors voiced their confusion and contempt.

“I am appalled that absolutely no transparency, accountability or financial statements have been supplied by SMF to donors like us,” wrote one Facebook user.

Another asked: “Which of these other outstanding organisations will be given the donations you received prior to this announcement and what measures are you taking to soften the blow to the girls and women this will impact?”

In its statement in June, SMF pledged that its full 2013 financial audit would be made public before November 15, and, in an email to the Post in April, the organisation said that its annual report would be made public by the “end of summer”.

Former SMF staff did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Staff at Afesip, a local NGO founded by Mam that lost funding in the wake of the allegations, declined to comment, while representatives of the New Somaly Fund, an organisation “created by friends” of Mam to raise donations to “sustain” Afesip’s work, could not be reached.

Other anti-trafficking NGOs voiced concerns yesterday that the closure of such a major organisation could hit the sector hard.

“I think that when a major organisation closes, it will affect small NGOs” that will face a greater burden of responsibility, said Chan Saron, a case support project manager with Phnom Penh-based NGO Chab Dai.

“I am very sorry [it has closed] because the foundation helped so many trafficking victims in Cambodia.… It is still a big issue.”



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