I wish to make some statements in reference to your article,
"VVAF sacks 40 as the money threatens to run out" (May 5-18).
termination of employment letter to the people sacked, VVAF country director
Larrie Warren makes the statement: "If we do not reduce the size of our staff
immediately, we will run out of operating funds within a few months."
his interview with the Post he said: "I can't answer when we will run out of
funds, a lot of that has to do with what I'm doing right now with cost cutting
and reallocation of resources". Who is Mr Warren attempting to fool? The fact is
that VVAF will run out of money. That was determined by the people in control of
that money long before Mr Warren arrived in Cambodia. The very hiring of Mr
Warren, and Mr Bob Eaton in VVAF's Washington DC office, is another clear
example of VVAF spending more money, rather than making serious spending
Both of Mr Warren's statements imply that VVAF is about to run out
of money. The only question seems to be when and why?
If VVAF is short on
funds, is it because of mismanagement? If so, did any of this mismanagement
occur in VVAF's Washington DC, office? If so, how many VVAF employees were
I would think at a minimum, VVAF's Executive-Director and
board member, Mr Muller, VVAF's president and board member, Mr John Terzano,
VVAF's director of special programs, Mr Ed Miles and their controller, Mr Dick
Howard, must share in the blame and responsibility for what has happened to $4.5
million dollars of US taxpayers' money that USAID entrusted to them. Instead of
sharing the responsibility, VVAF's leadership makes the inept decision to "sack"
innocent Khmer employees.
I estimate that those Khmers who were "sacked"
will save VVAF a total cash amount of about $4,000 per month.
then one month's consultants fee admittedly received by Thomas Leckinger from
VVAF. This is after being "sacked" himself by VVAF for what I have reason to
believe was his part in the mismanagement of program funds.
It's not even
one half of VVAF's average monthly phone bills for calls between Cambodia and
their Washington DC office. VVAF has a monthly phone bill averaging well over
$10,000. It's called ultra micro-management.
It's only pocket change
compared to VVAF's Corporate American Express Card monthly billings. Tom
Leckinger had one monthly bill that totaled over $22,000. Mr Muller stated that
he was not at all concerned about this. Is Mr Muller concerned now, knowing that
decisions like that are now costing so many families here their only source of
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out where those
cuts should have been made.
Who does Mr Warren think is paying for all
the travel being accumulated by VVAF between Washington, DC and Cambodia as a
result of the federal audits of their financial records? Again, one more example
of VVAF spending more, not less, USAID money. "We've still got a number of draws
left" (on USAID money) was Mr Warren's statement. Mr Warren will learn that
those draw downs have already been spent by VVAF. In fact Mr Warren has a lot to
learn when it comes to Mr Muller's VVAF.
Were any of the "sacked" people
responsible for the financial mismanagement which ultimately cost them their
The people know that they have no voice when attempting to
responsibly deal with VVAF. They know they are powerless, after having witnessed
my, and other expatriate staff, attempts to challenge employment decisions and
promised severance packages.
For simply voicing their disapproval over
being sacked, VVAF has made punitive, insensitive decision to withhold all
promised severance payments until late May.
Most of those people have
families depending on them. What happens if the office of the Inspector
General's investigation does not turn out favorable for VVAF? Will VVAF have any
money to give to those people if USAID refuses to give more funding?
believe that VVAF is simply attempting to buy some time while scrambling around
looking for more money. At the end of May, will VVAF be crying that they have no
money for those people? VVAF's track record is to relinquish on their employment
I wish to address VVAF's continued complaints concerning
conspiracies, death threats and violence. I have never heard of any other NGO or
company doing what VVAF is doing. It is holding innocent people, and their
families, prisoner because of unsubstantiated threats to expatriate
Why is it that the present VVAF expatriate staff seem to be
experiencing so many death threats? VVAF's repeated excuse for their unorthodox
manner of conducting business has been death threats and violence aimed at
I worked out at Kien Khleang for three years and in
all that time there were no death threats made towards anyone. There has been
very little violence at Kien Khleang, considering that thousands of disabled
people alone have lived there, covering every Khmer military faction and ethnic
minority including the Vietnamese. Those few acts of violence were spontaneous
actions among themselves. There has never been a planned act of violence against
anyone at Kien Khleang in my four years in Cambodia.
VVAF blows the
violence issue out of perspective to meet their own mismanaged agenda. By doing
so they continue to make the unconscious statement that handicapped people are
to be considered more violent and dangerous than others. This simply is not the
case, nor should that notion be embraced. It certainly should not be permitted
to hold up much-needed severance payments.
Those people were "sacked" for
ignoble reasons beyond their control, not for acts of violence. If someone
commits violence then deal with that individual, not the innocent people
"sacked" because of mismanagement of funds by expatriates.
concluded that Kien Khleang could withstand a 25% reduction in its work force
and continue at the same level of production. By cutting 25% of the work force
in their Washington DC, office, VVAF could have saved a hell of a lot more then
$4,000 per month.
Why did VVAF make the decision to build a
quarter-of-a-million-dollar building at Kien Khleang if not to increase
training, employment opportunities and services for the handicapped? Instead,
VVAF seems now content to keep the same level of production as before. That in
itself is mismanagement.
If wheelchair production alone remains at the
same level, then the people of Cambodia who are in dire need of wheelchairs will
be the real losers. The overwhelming demand for wheelchairs in Cambodia dictates
that training programs, employment opportunities and wheelchair production must
be increased. The main reason given by VVAF for going ahead with the
construction of that scandalous quarter-of-a-million dollar building was to
increase their wheelchair production threefold.
Instead of "sacking"
innocent people and asking for more money from USAID to do "outreach programs",
VVAF should look for creative ways to maximize the resources they have. Instead
of constructing a quarter-of-a-million-dollar building VVAF could have opted to
renovate an existing building with the help, cooperation and support of the
newly-elected government of Cambodia. During the renovation period VVAF could
have increased training at Kien Khleang by running two shifts in their
wheelchair training program.
When the renovated building was ready, you would have the trained people
needed to increase production. I would have continued training people at Kien
Khleang, placing them in the wheelchair manufacturing plant. With the newly
renovated building I would have run three shifts so as to best utilize the
building, the work force, kind donations by the government and VVAF program
funds. That is exactly what I suggested doing prior to my "sacking" by VVAF. It
would have saved them a lot of money as well as the headaches they are
confronted with today. On paper it makes everyone look good. In reality it
demonstrates that we can and must work together to help minimize Cambodia's
Because of gross mismanagement during the construction stage of
the new building, VVAF is now faced with a lack of funds, personnel problems and
cuts, federal audits and no increase in wheelchairs, prostheses, training or
employment opportunities to show for it. All of that for only a quarter of a
I believe that VVAF has very little money left from
their $4.5 million USAID grant due to gross mismanagement and a lack of basic
control mechanisms. If USAID says no more money will "come on line this October"
then their entire Cambodian program is most certainly "in imminent danger of
I am not at all comfortable with Larrie Warren's
statement concerning the office of the Inspector General's request for a Federal
Audit of VVAF's financial records. He makes reference to the audit turning out
of the way VVAF had been "led to unofficially believe". Dose VVAF know something
that we do not concerning the United States Government's process of conducting
At a bare minimum VVAF has demonstrated serious problems
with basic administration and financial management. They have serious employee
problems at the highest levels in Cambodia, a weak, disinterested leadership in
Washington DC, and a rubber stamp, disconnected Governing Board of Directors
scattered across America. That's an awfully lot to clean up. Perhaps even more
than US taxpayers, the office of the Inspector General or USAID will
- Ron Podlaski, "Sacked" [Abridged]