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Old problems, new standstill

Old problems, new standstill

ALMOST a year after a controversial split and its subsequent reformation, one of

Cambodia's few independent think-tanks lays inactive, plagued by an image problem

and entangled in financial difficulties.

The Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) was created last March, rising from the ashes

of its predecessor, the Preah Sihanouk Raj Academy, which folded among infighting

and rumors of shady financial dealings.

"We've inherited a lot of problems which were created by the former leadership

of the Preah Sihanouk Raj Academy-there are some debts, there are some payments...and

there is also a problem of image," says CAS vice-president Dr. Pen Dareth.

In December, lack of institutional financial support brought the center to a standstill,

forcing the administration to release most of its staff and to effectively cease

most of its day-to-day operations.

"On one hand, we operate with very limited funds; on the other, we have to be

functioning well in order to polish our image, " said Dareth, explaining that

CAS is still struggling to disassociate itself from the negative image of the former

academy.

Since the days of the Raj Academy, the center has restructured its administration,

and it now operates under the supervision of an independent Board of Governors and

an Advisory Council.

But funding is still tight.

According to Dareth, the donor community has been generally supportive in words,

but very little funding has materialized.

"An independent, objective think-tank is certainly needed and should be encouraged

in Cambodia, but in a country where people are starving and their limbs are being

blown off, it is hard to get funding for an academic institution," one funder

said.

Others maintain the center is still paying a price for the misdeeds of the Raj Academy.

"Even though they are a new institution, they are still linked to the past in

the eyes of donors," said one observer familiar with CAS's difficulties.

Others are less supportive saying the center has set out a program that is too ambitious

and does not have the track record to inspire donors' confidence.

Recently, CAS received some criticism for failing to publish the final report on

a year-long study on ethnic minorities which was funded by several UN agencies.

"CAS has not yet fulfilled their contract... I regret that [the report] is not

yet published because it is a very valuable research for the development of Cambodia,"

said Dr. Vincent Fauveau, the country representative of UN Population Fund which

was one of the reports original funders.

But Dr. Pen Dareth, who served as the Project's director, defended the center. He

said the cost of producing the final report was greater than anticipated and claimed

the lack of institutional support had hindered CAS's ability to deliver the report

on time.

"You cannot function as an institution without institutional building of funds,

and you cannot carry out programs without organizational backing."

Some observers believe that CAS's problems may lay beyond the specifics of the current

controversy.

"In Cambodia, people still have a tough time in understanding the role of think-tanks,

the concept is still fairly new," said Kao Kim Hourn, director of the Cambodian

Center for Cooperation and Peace.

However, Dareth has not given up on the center. He firmly believes that think tanks

are a significant component in the process of democratization in Cambodia."

In order to keep CAS alive, he is dividing his time between fund-raising activities,

the production of the bi-monthly publication "Cambodia Report", and whatever

other activities are possible under the current budgetary constraints.

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