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Cash woes turn lights out at CMAC

Cash woes turn lights out at CMAC

WORK ground to a halt at the headquarters of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC)

for five days last week after essential services to the building were cut due to

nonpayment of bills.

In the most dramatic articulation of the troubled demining agency's financial woes,

electrical, water and telephone service to the CMAC building in Phnom Penh's Toul

Kork District were severed between Nov. 5 and Nov. 9.

CMAC personnel were also denied access to the organization's main storage warehouse

by armed guards placed there by the warehouse owner as a reaction to nonpayment of

rent for the property.

CMAC Headquarters staff contacted by the Post spoke of long, hot days spent in darkened

offices, the silence broken only by the periodic arrival of cleaners bearing buckets

of water to flush out the building's toilets.

Although CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan declined to discuss the matter, the partial

shutdown is widely believed to be linked to the failure of the Royal Government to

provide promised funding for the agency.

The Royal Government has allocated $1.7 million for CMAC in 1999, but foreign donors

have complained that only a fraction of that amount has been paid out.

More than 95% of CMAC's budget is supplied by foreign donors through a UNDP trust

fund, but rental and essential service payments for CMAC buildings are the responsibility

of the Cambodian government.

In previous years, CMAC has relied on UNDP to provide emergency, short-term funding

during periods in which government funds fell short. UNDP's apparent refusal to do

so in this case is perceived by CMAC observers as a hardening in UNDP's traditionally

lax attitude toward CMAC's budgetary shortfalls.

For Pan Sothy, former CMAC Director of Operations until his dismissal earlier this

month, the plight of CMAC headquarters is a symptom of the havoc being caused by

foreign donors' pressure for reform.

"Five days with no water and no power, in an organization in which people need

computers to do their jobs," Sothy said angrily. "CMAC cannot fulfill its

operational duties if it's under this kind of pressure."

However, a CMAC staffer who declined to be identified described the partial shutdown

as "a kind of victory" for the organization's reform process.

"The fact that UNDP allowed this to happen proves that it's taking CMAC reform

seriously and demanding that CMAC live within its means," the source explained.

"UNDP and the donors are showing that they're willing to help, but that CMAC

and the Cambodian government must act responsibly and honor their budgetary responsibilities

if the agency is going to survive."

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