I was so impressed with your coverage of the story regarding the human rights NGO's
in Cambodia, which appeared as a front page story "Fraud probe into human rights
group" by Robert Carmichael (V. 11, N 6, March 15 - 28, 2002).
I have been coming to Cambodia regularly over the last 4 years with the specific
aim of conducting research on Cambodian non-government organizations for my doctoral
thesis in the area of development. I am not familiar with the human rights organizations
because my focus has been women's NGO's based in Phnom Penh. Which is what prompted
me to write to you because the issues and problems raised in your paper mirror the
problems which exist among ALL the women's NGO's that I monitored, researched and
interviewed in Phnom Penh.
The worst ones are those which have a director who is also the founder. They abound
with hierarchical systems that can be likened to a master/slave relationship. This
is manifested in the oppression of their staff, mis-handling of funds, and often
using the funds and assets of the organization for the director's own personal purposes.
One women's organization in particular, which used to be part of the women's association
of the government, has a director that lives on the premises. She occupies several
rooms for herself, uses all the assets of the organization including the car for
only her personal use, and her staff said that only her rooms are air-conditioned
24 hours a day. The staff are scared to approach the donors because they think their
jobs will be jeopardized.
Despite these very obvious signs of misappropriation of funds and incredibly high
salaries, and constant overseas trips, no donor or governing board addresses these
issues. I know in my native country, the people give very generously to aid organizations
because they think the aid agency is helping the poor people of Cambodia. Not sub-contracting
agencies like local NGOs that I saw build personal fortunes, status, privilege, and
power over peoples lives. Where do poor people fit into this equation? What do these
wonderful missions and visions really mean?
I also discovered the loans projects they have to supposedly help poor people and
in particularly poor women, yet these women have to pay 5% interest a month, which
adds up to 60% interest a year. In which country in the world does a bank or an organization
that wants to help women "develop" charge these unjust rates. Does this
accumulation of poor women's hard-earned cash from their labor contribute to a healthy
bank account earning high interest rates for the Director to spend.
The other major issue I encountered in my research and interviews with staff of these
women's organizations is that they employ their entire families to work in the NGO
so that international aid money takes over the role of patron duties rather than
the directors having to use part of their own salary to assist their family members.
During my research and extensive interviewing, I discovered this information of exploitation
very easily, so I really had to ask myself "do the donors know this but are
allowing it to happen-until it becomes so evident that they are forced to match action
Why is the Cambodian government not regulating the work of the LNGOs? All aid organizations
in the West are regulated by the state and their financial records are made public.
This is a basic requirement of transparency. Is there not a code of ethics that organizations
are accountable to? How can these organizations claim that the government is corrupt
when they are worse than the government because they are deceitful in their practices?
They appeal to the international community to receive funding and do something very
different to what they claim they are doing.
I would like to sincerely commend your paper for taking up a courageous task known
as social responsibility and expose publicly what I am sure everyone involved in
the development sector already knows but to save themselves they condone an injustice
to the poor people of Cambodia-the very people that the public in industrialized
countries give to under the premise of alleviating poverty. The donor organizations
that are involved in the case investigated by the Phnom Penh Post should also be
congratulated for taking a stance and not deliberately ignoring the reality. I would
gladly recommend giving donations to you.
In my work in Latin America this situation would never happen because it would be
exposed by others in the sector. Here it appears as silence among all the NGOs, maybe
because they are all doing the same thing. Shame on the donors that condone these
practices and do not investigate the organizations they give money to.