Ailing Demining Agency Likely to Blow Donor Deadlines

Senior officials at the Cam­bodian Mine Action Center admitted Thursday that most of the end-of-August reform deadlines imposed by donor nations are going to be missed.

A list of 32 conditions given to CMAC by donors on Aug 3 tie reform within the agency directly to the distribution of future international aid money.

Some key reform actions, which are designed to rid CMAC of widespread financial mismanagement, must be completed by the end of the month in order for the agency to receive enough money to keep it running through the remainder of the year, two Western CMAC sources said this week.

But newly appointed CMAC Director-General Khem Sophoan sent a letter to donors Wed­nesday asking for “flexibility” with the deadlines, according to diplomatic sources.

“We cannot complete the reforms by the August deadline,” Khem Sophoan said Thursday.

CMAC’s governing council—its policy-making arm headed by CMAC Chairman Ieng Mouly—will meet Monday to discuss the donor’s demands and how the agency should meet them.

Donors have not met since giving CMAC their demands and have no opinion yet on the potentially blown deadlines, according one diplomatic source.

“I have no doubt [CMAC] is making a genuine effort to address these issues but donors will have to wait until after Monday to decide what they want to do,” said the source, who wanted to remain unidentified.

The donor nations’ reaction to the revelation that not even the first of their demands are going to be met on time is going to set precedence for how seriously their future demands are taken, said one Western CMAC source.

“Missing deadlines should be unacceptable. The only thing to do is get rid of the person in charge,” the source said. “Either that or giving instructions to start shutting CMAC down.”

Ieng Mouly has been accused by some donors of only paying lip service to their wishes while failing to produce any real reform within the agency.

Critics say Ieng Mouly is confident the donor nations know how important CMAC is to the inter­national community’s hu­man­itarian mission in Cambodia and will not let the agency fold, despite a lack of reform.

Under Ieng Mouly’s direction the agency has undergone several personnel shake-ups, including the firing of former director-general Sam Sotha and the removal of two other senior CMAC officials from their posts.

Ieng Mouly said Thursday that he had also created a special commission to investigate claims of corruption within the agency and asked the UNDP last week for an independent examination of demining operations in Kampot, where CMAC crews have been accused of demining land for private property owners.

But these measures may come too late for the agency. Some CMAC and donor officials say the agency is going to run out of money by October without more donor funds—which make up at least 90 percent of CMAC’s budget. The agency will not be able to pay its emp­loyee’s salaries and dem­ining operations are likely to stop, they said.

“It will be impossible for CMAC to prove to the donors it has reformed itself before the money runs out,” one donor said.

The donor’s demands, which cover almost every aspect of CMAC’s operations, are intended to heal the ailing agency.

Sanctions against demining unit managers in Kampot prov­ince and a more equitable hiring process for senior CMAC officials are among other dem­ands contained in a partial list obtained Wednesday. Also inc­luded in the list is a request for more donor access to CMAC operations.

An audit of CMAC’s bookkeeping released to donors in July blasted CMAC for financial mismanagement and the misappropriation of thousands of dollars. The audit also discovered that a little more than $100,000 in money from the Cambodian government was missing and suggested widespread nepotism was occurring in CMAC’s hiring processes.

These findings have shaken the confidence of donor nations

Three donor nations are withholding approximately $4 million in aid to CMAC and other major donors are hesitant to commit more money until the release of a second audit of CMAC’s financial bookkeeping and operations.

The agency has been criticized for not being able to account for up to 40 percent of the land it demined last year and failing to properly manage the money it received from both the government and donor nations.

There have been revelations that demining crews were filing reports for work allegedly done on assigned minefields but had been demining private property.

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