DEMINING platoons of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) were fuming this week
due to a delay of more than two weeks in their August salaries.
The delay in payment to the 2000 CMAC employees in the field, whose duties of locating
and defusing land mines and UXO (unexploded ordnance) form the raison d'etre of CMAC,
prompted rumors to circulate of a planned mass protest by unpaid CMAC staff in front
of the National Assembly.
While the rumored protest didn't occur, the payment delay has caused considerable
concern among the foreign technical advisers who oversee the work of the deminers.
"This is the second month that the payment has been delayed," a technical
assistant from Kampong Chhnang told the Post. "Last month the pay was delayed
for twenty days ... It's really affecting the [deminers]."
CMAC personnel in Battambang also registered alarm at the delay in payment to deminers,
voicing fears that the delay in payment could adversely affect demining operations.
According to Lieutenant-General Khem Sophoan, Director-General of CMAC, the recent
payment delays were an unfortunate consequence of "ongoing reform" under
way in the Financial Department of CMAC's Phnom Penh headquarters.
Sophoan pointed to an ongoing audit of CMAC finances by the accounting firm KPMG
as another factor in the salary payment delay.
"Our Financial Department has been busy cooperating with KPMG and there's been
little time for other work," Sophoan said.
Sophoan told the Post on Sep 13 that he had "signed the paychecks" and
that deminers were to receive their salaries on Sep 15.
Cooperation with KPMG auditors is but one of 32 demands of donor countries presented
to CMAC management in a "Donor Draft Framework for Normalization of Relations
Donors have served notice to CMAC - beset for months by allegations of operational
and management irregularities and fraud on every level - that fulfillment of donor
demands is required for a resumption of currently frozen donor funding to the demining
CMAC currently has only enough operating funds to pay salaries and continue normal
operations until the end of October.
A CMAC source described the anger of deminers as "completely understandable".
"All the staff in CMAC headquarters were paid on time," the source said.
"The people who are out in the field risking their lives doing demining work
are having to wait for their pay without being told the reasons."
Sophoan acknowledged that CMAC headquarters staff had been paid on time, but attributed
it to the differing amounts of money involved.
"The amount of money necessary to pay [CMAC] headquarters staff is much less
than that to pay the demining units," Sophoan explained.
Meanwhile, CMAC efforts to comply with the key donor demand of resolving allegations
that CMAC demining units in Kampot and Kampong Speu were involved in "contract
demining" for individuals such as former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin and
current RCAF Chief of Staff Ke Kim Yan remain stalled.
Two weeks after the environmental watchdog NGO Global Witness was approached to provide
a neutral, third party appraisal of demining operations in Kampot and Kampong Speu,
Global Witness Director Patrick Alley remained non-committal regarding whether he
would accept Sophoan's offer to lead the investigation.
In a phone interview from Global Witness's headquarters in London, Alley said the
group "hasn't made a decision one way or another" whether to investigate
possible CMAC wrongdoing.
Alley admitted the "political nuances" of the CMAC scandal in Kampot and
Kampong Speu were figuring prominently in his consideration of whether to become
"We have to consider whether we want to get into a political minefield as well
as an actual minefield," he said.