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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - VVAF 'awful lot to clean up'

VVAF 'awful lot to clean up'

The Editor,

I wish to make some statements in reference to your article,

"VVAF sacks 40 as the money threatens to run out" (May 5-18).

In his

termination of employment letter to the people sacked, VVAF country director

Larrie Warren makes the statement: "If we do not reduce the size of our staff

immediately, we will run out of operating funds within a few months."

In

his interview with the Post he said: "I can't answer when we will run out of

funds, a lot of that has to do with what I'm doing right now with cost cutting

and reallocation of resources". Who is Mr Warren attempting to fool? The fact is

that VVAF will run out of money. That was determined by the people in control of

that money long before Mr Warren arrived in Cambodia. The very hiring of Mr

Warren, and Mr Bob Eaton in VVAF's Washington DC office, is another clear

example of VVAF spending more money, rather than making serious spending

cuts.

Both of Mr Warren's statements imply that VVAF is about to run out

of money. The only question seems to be when and why?

If VVAF is short on

funds, is it because of mismanagement? If so, did any of this mismanagement

occur in VVAF's Washington DC, office? If so, how many VVAF employees were

"sacked" there?

I would think at a minimum, VVAF's Executive-Director and

board member, Mr Muller, VVAF's president and board member, Mr John Terzano,

VVAF's director of special programs, Mr Ed Miles and their controller, Mr Dick

Howard, must share in the blame and responsibility for what has happened to $4.5

million dollars of US taxpayers' money that USAID entrusted to them. Instead of

sharing the responsibility, VVAF's leadership makes the inept decision to "sack"

innocent Khmer employees.

I estimate that those Khmers who were "sacked"

will save VVAF a total cash amount of about $4,000 per month.

That's less

then one month's consultants fee admittedly received by Thomas Leckinger from

VVAF. This is after being "sacked" himself by VVAF for what I have reason to

believe was his part in the mismanagement of program funds.

It's not even

one half of VVAF's average monthly phone bills for calls between Cambodia and

their Washington DC office. VVAF has a monthly phone bill averaging well over

$10,000. It's called ultra micro-management.

It's only pocket change

compared to VVAF's Corporate American Express Card monthly billings. Tom

Leckinger had one monthly bill that totaled over $22,000. Mr Muller stated that

he was not at all concerned about this. Is Mr Muller concerned now, knowing that

decisions like that are now costing so many families here their only source of

income?

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out where those

cuts should have been made.

Who does Mr Warren think is paying for all

the travel being accumulated by VVAF between Washington, DC and Cambodia as a

result of the federal audits of their financial records? Again, one more example

of VVAF spending more, not less, USAID money. "We've still got a number of draws

left" (on USAID money) was Mr Warren's statement. Mr Warren will learn that

those draw downs have already been spent by VVAF. In fact Mr Warren has a lot to

learn when it comes to Mr Muller's VVAF.

Were any of the "sacked" people

responsible for the financial mismanagement which ultimately cost them their

jobs?

The people know that they have no voice when attempting to

responsibly deal with VVAF. They know they are powerless, after having witnessed

my, and other expatriate staff, attempts to challenge employment decisions and

promised severance packages.

For simply voicing their disapproval over

being sacked, VVAF has made punitive, insensitive decision to withhold all

promised severance payments until late May.

Most of those people have

families depending on them. What happens if the office of the Inspector

General's investigation does not turn out favorable for VVAF? Will VVAF have any

money to give to those people if USAID refuses to give more funding?

I

believe that VVAF is simply attempting to buy some time while scrambling around

looking for more money. At the end of May, will VVAF be crying that they have no

money for those people? VVAF's track record is to relinquish on their employment

promises.

I wish to address VVAF's continued complaints concerning

conspiracies, death threats and violence. I have never heard of any other NGO or

company doing what VVAF is doing. It is holding innocent people, and their

families, prisoner because of unsubstantiated threats to expatriate

staff.

Why is it that the present VVAF expatriate staff seem to be

experiencing so many death threats? VVAF's repeated excuse for their unorthodox

manner of conducting business has been death threats and violence aimed at

expatriate staff.

I worked out at Kien Khleang for three years and in

all that time there were no death threats made towards anyone. There has been

very little violence at Kien Khleang, considering that thousands of disabled

people alone have lived there, covering every Khmer military faction and ethnic

minority including the Vietnamese. Those few acts of violence were spontaneous

actions among themselves. There has never been a planned act of violence against

anyone at Kien Khleang in my four years in Cambodia.

VVAF blows the

violence issue out of perspective to meet their own mismanaged agenda. By doing

so they continue to make the unconscious statement that handicapped people are

to be considered more violent and dangerous than others. This simply is not the

case, nor should that notion be embraced. It certainly should not be permitted

to hold up much-needed severance payments.

Those people were "sacked" for

ignoble reasons beyond their control, not for acts of violence. If someone

commits violence then deal with that individual, not the innocent people

"sacked" because of mismanagement of funds by expatriates.

Larrie Warren

concluded that Kien Khleang could withstand a 25% reduction in its work force

and continue at the same level of production. By cutting 25% of the work force

in their Washington DC, office, VVAF could have saved a hell of a lot more then

$4,000 per month.

Why did VVAF make the decision to build a

quarter-of-a-million-dollar building at Kien Khleang if not to increase

training, employment opportunities and services for the handicapped? Instead,

VVAF seems now content to keep the same level of production as before. That in

itself is mismanagement.

If wheelchair production alone remains at the

same level, then the people of Cambodia who are in dire need of wheelchairs will

be the real losers. The overwhelming demand for wheelchairs in Cambodia dictates

that training programs, employment opportunities and wheelchair production must

be increased. The main reason given by VVAF for going ahead with the

construction of that scandalous quarter-of-a-million dollar building was to

increase their wheelchair production threefold.

Instead of "sacking"

innocent people and asking for more money from USAID to do "outreach programs",

VVAF should look for creative ways to maximize the resources they have. Instead

of constructing a quarter-of-a-million-dollar building VVAF could have opted to

renovate an existing building with the help, cooperation and support of the

newly-elected government of Cambodia. During the renovation period VVAF could

have increased training at Kien Khleang by running two shifts in their

wheelchair training program.

When the renovated building was ready, you would have the trained people

needed to increase production. I would have continued training people at Kien

Khleang, placing them in the wheelchair manufacturing plant. With the newly

renovated building I would have run three shifts so as to best utilize the

building, the work force, kind donations by the government and VVAF program

funds. That is exactly what I suggested doing prior to my "sacking" by VVAF. It

would have saved them a lot of money as well as the headaches they are

confronted with today. On paper it makes everyone look good. In reality it

demonstrates that we can and must work together to help minimize Cambodia's

problems.

Because of gross mismanagement during the construction stage of

the new building, VVAF is now faced with a lack of funds, personnel problems and

cuts, federal audits and no increase in wheelchairs, prostheses, training or

employment opportunities to show for it. All of that for only a quarter of a

million dollars.

I believe that VVAF has very little money left from

their $4.5 million USAID grant due to gross mismanagement and a lack of basic

control mechanisms. If USAID says no more money will "come on line this October"

then their entire Cambodian program is most certainly "in imminent danger of

financial collapse".

I am not at all comfortable with Larrie Warren's

statement concerning the office of the Inspector General's request for a Federal

Audit of VVAF's financial records. He makes reference to the audit turning out

of the way VVAF had been "led to unofficially believe". Dose VVAF know something

that we do not concerning the United States Government's process of conducting

federal audits?

At a bare minimum VVAF has demonstrated serious problems

with basic administration and financial management. They have serious employee

problems at the highest levels in Cambodia, a weak, disinterested leadership in

Washington DC, and a rubber stamp, disconnected Governing Board of Directors

scattered across America. That's an awfully lot to clean up. Perhaps even more

than US taxpayers, the office of the Inspector General or USAID will

tolerate.

- Ron Podlaski, "Sacked" [Abridged]

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