Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Questions linger as top NGO official bows out

Questions linger as top NGO official bows out

Former CHRAC secretary-general Suon Bunsak (centre) attends a compensation meeting earlier this year in Kampong Speu. Photo supplied
Former CHRAC secretary-general Suon Bunsak (centre) attends a compensation meeting earlier this year in Kampong Speu. Photo supplied

Questions linger as top NGO official bows out

Bringing to a close a controversial tenure, Suon Bunsak resigned yesterday as secretary-general of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC), the NGO’s acting chair In Kea confirmed.

“He submitted the resignation letter to the steering committee . . . the reason is that he’s very tired,” Kea said.

Bunsak could not be reached yesterday, but his resignation comes amid allegations that in 2015 he attempted to solicit a bribe from then-CHRAC consultant Billy Tai in return for favourable working conditions.

Tai shared text messages that would appear to corroborate the allegation first with CHRAC donor Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and later with the Post after what he views as NPA’s failure to take action.

NPA country director Aksel Steen-Nilsen declined to comment yesterday.

Ou Virak, president of think tank Future Forum, said he was not surprised to hear of corruption allegations within CHRAC, given what he described as a lack of oversight exacerbated in recent months by the absence of CHRAC chair Thun Saray.

“There’s a lot personal connections more than anything else. There’s no systematic governance; it’s all decisions made by the chair. Bunsak used to work for Saray and that sort of hierarchy creates a patronage system a bit like the government,” Virak said, adding that it may be time for Saray to step down as chair.

Saray disputed Virak’s claim that CHRAC lacked oversight in an email last night, but did say that Adhoc will soon offer to relinquish the chair.

Naly Pilorge, deputy advocacy director at rights group Licadho, said the power of the chair to overrule the steering committee – particularly in hiring matters – was one of the key reasons for her organisation’s decision to withdraw from CHRAC roughly a decade ago.

“I think donors are to blame, too,” Virak said, noting that donors are often wary of broaching corruption issues out of public relations concerns.

One staff member at a Phnom Penh-based international NGO, who asked not be named as they were not authorised to speak to media, called it “extremely alarming” that NPA decided to continue funding CHRAC with Bunsak at the helm if the donor had “documentary evidence” of corrupt practices.

Tai, meanwhile, said that he felt donor responses to issues within CHRAC “has been to trying to sweep it under the rug and hope it goes away”.

“There needs to be an attitude change in this sector,” Tai said. “There needs to be an acknowledgement that the one who’s doing the wrong is responsible, not the person who talks about it.”

MOST VIEWED

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Shipwreck found off coast of Koh Kong

    Royal Cambodian Navy researchers are working to identify a decades-old shipwreck found earlier this month off the coast of Koh Kong province. Divers found the 70-metre-long wreck on April 4 about a mile from Koh Chhlam island, according to Navy officials. Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha,