Center for Social Development
director Theary Seng was voted out of office by one of the group’s two conflicting boards of directors.
Crisis has again engulfed the Center for Social Development (CSD), one of Cambodia’s most visible civil society groups, following a leadership dispute that culminated in the alleged dismissal Tuesday of Theary Seng, the organization’s executive director.
Her reported firing came amid uncertainty as to who has legal control of the organization, with two separate boards of directors claiming legitimate decision-making powers.
"The entire board has unanimously resolved to dismiss Theary Seng,” said Vi Houi, a member of a three-member board of directors that claims to be CSD’s key decision-making body.
"The main issue is that Theary has not been accountable to the board. If she doesn’t come to meetings when the board calls a meeting, it means she doesn’t want to do her job,” he said.
According to Houi, the other 11-member board, constituted earlier this year after the old board’s term expired last November, was a legal fabrication, and part of the reason for the executive’s dismissal.
"It’s not legal. It’s not legitimate to disagree with the board and then to go out and organize your own board,” he said. "Staff can’t go out and make their own board. That’s one reason [we have] rushed to dismiss Theary.”
If she refused to step down, Houi added, the next step would be formal legal action. "It’s a very simple thing. She’s the employee, the board is her employer. If she doesn’t want to do what the board says, she can leave.”
However, Theary, who has served as executive director of the CSD since 2006, rejected the decision of the board members, saying that their terms ended in November and have not since been renewed.
"The acts of these three individuals… have been ones of obstruction, destruction and immaturity; they reflect a sad and desperate attempt at power,” Theary told the Post by email. "Simply put, the answer is power.”
She said that the new board was elected according to the organization’s constitution, and that any decision made by the other board has no legal standing.
"The new board members came about after opening the floor for nomination, [which was open] to former existing board members, the management committee and donors,” she said.
The current crisis has cast a shadow over CSD, which has been an active member of Cambodia’s NGO community since it was founded in 1995. But whatever the outcome of the internal dispute, Theary said she is confident it will not impact the organization’s activities.
"It has made my staff much stronger … it has chipped away at all our unhealthy naiveté and unconditional trust of foreigners and people with seniority of age and status,” she said. "CSD is moving forward. This is a non-issue.”