More than 440 Cambodian landmine clearers could be laid off after a charity organisation lost a court challenge over a £3.5 million (US$5.5 million) United Kingdom government contract in Cambodia.
Last week, the England and Wales High Court handed down its judgement for a legal challenge brought by mine-clearing charity Halo against the Department for International Development following the awarding of a de-mining contract to rival Mines Advisory Group.
Halo’s barrister, Mark Clough QC, argued the awarding of the contract to MAG breached procurement rules, asking that the contract be set aside pending trial.
But High Court judge Mr Justice Akenhead ruled the claims by Halo were “relatively weak” and a delay in operations to wait for a trial would “be bad for the people of Cambodia as well as the two charities”.
“Even if I had concluded that there was a serious issue to be tried, I would have found that the balance of convenience was such that DFID should no longer be restrained from entering into its proposed contract with MAG,” Justice Akenhead said.
Guy Willoughby, director of Halo, said yesterday the loss of the contract would likely result in retrenchment of 440 of its 1,000 local personnel.
“We train local Cambodians from those communes in which we are operating,” Willoughby said.
“That has the most direct impact, in that over 400 families will no longer have a breadwinner.”
The major issues Halo identified in court were a perceived lack of transparency in the tendering process, the move by DFID to link mine clearing with development aid, and a belief the Halo bid offered better value for money.
Mr Willoughby was particularly concerned about the focus by MAG on only demining areas where other development agencies were located.
“We believe now that this project will prove demining [only] where there are follow-on international development agencies will marginalise the poorest communities.”
Justice Akenhead said the complaint by Halo was too late and “a challenge to the strategy would need to have been made many months ago in the Administrative Court by way of judicial review”.
Although the judgement did not support Halo’s claim, the judge noted both landmine clearing organisations would continue their important work in Cambodia, with Halo’s $55 million annual funding coming from a variety of governments and private donors.
“There can be no doubt on the evidence before this Court that both Halo and MAG have been doing extremely worthwhile work in Cambodia in connection with the clearance of landmines and other ordnance,” Justice Akenhead said.
“Nothing which I have said in this judgement should in any way be taken as meaning or implying any criticism of either organisation for the work which they have done in that regard and will continue to do.”
A spokesman for DFID could not be contacted yesterday.