A BOUT 40 Khmer staff have been laid off by the Vietnam Veterans of America
Foundation (VVAF) at its Kien Khleang facility near Phnom Penh.
"If we do
not reduce the size of our staff immediately, we will run out of operating funds
within a few months," program director Larrie Warren wrote in a letter to sacked
staff last week.
The letter also said that it was "evident for anyone to
see" that Kien Khleang - which produces wheelchairs and artificial limbs for
amputees - had been overstaffed.
The laid off workers have been promised
one month's salary as severance pay, but it is being withheld until the end of
Warren's letter, citing a "tense and angry" atmosphere at Kien
Khleang, said that if "rumored threats toward staff or the facility are carried
out, these severance payments will be held pending
"Additionally, if the atmosphere at Kien Khleang becomes
too threatening, the facility will be closed."
Warren told the Post the
layoffs were aimed at cutting unnecessary staff, though saving money was a
"secondary" but "major" factor.
Warren said that since his recent
appointment as program director, he had rapidly concluded that Kien Khleang
could withstand a cut of 40 staff - a quarter of its workforce - without
The cuts had been made across the board, including
artificial limb and wheelchair makers, housekeeping and maintenance staff. The
number of amputees included had been limited to three or four.
said rumors of trouble at Kien Khleang had to be taken seriously, but the
layoffs had gone a little smoother than feared.
He denied that VVAF's
Cambodian operation, funded by the US government's USAID agency, was in imminent
danger of financial collapse.
But he confirmed that VVAF, whose current
USAID grant is due to expire next June, had sought more money from the agency to
come on line this October.
He said the new application was primarily
aimed at allowing VVAF to start programs such as community outreach.
don't want to give the impression that we're running around looking for money.
We've still got a number of draws left [on USAID money] but it certainly has to
be used properly."
VVAF in Cambodia has a $4.5 million budget for
1992-96, 75 per cent of it from USAID. VVAF has to pay the rest itself, though
it can deduct the value of donations of land and equipment from
"We're certainly kicking in non-US government funds, which we would
have to do whether or not we were running out of government funds," 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
Meanwhile, VVAF is the subject of a US federal audit
following allegations of misuse or theft of funds. Auditors were in Cambodia
recently, visiting Phnom Penh and another VVAF project in Stung Treng, and also
due to go to its Vietnam office.
Senior US-based VVAF officials,
including executive-director Bobby Muller, are also in Cambodia.
said that if the audit turned out the way VVAF had been "led to unofficially
believe, we're going to be fine".
The audit was examining the use of
USAID money, and not that spent by VVAF from other sources. USAID had the right
to reject items charged to its funds.
Warren confirmed that USAID had
refused to pay for the cost of his travel to Cambodia, after his appointment in
He said USAID, after paying the travel costs of three former
directors since the project began, had "sort of said enough is enough".