UN auditors found no conclusive proof that Cambodian staff at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia had to kick back part of their salaries in exchange for their jobs, and after a preliminary assessment, determined that they are not responsible for further investigating those claims.
In a confidential June memo, posted to the ECCC Web site Tuesday, a UN auditor told the UN Development Program that the kickback allegations pertain to “personnel of the Government of Cambodia and therefore fall outside UNDP’s jurisdiction.”
The letter further stated that a “preliminary assessment” had yielded no conclusive evidence to substantiate the claims that Cambodian staff had to pay some 30 percent of their wages to government officials in exchange for their positions.
The auditor added that no further action by UNDP was required.
Neither the auditor’s letter nor the full audit make clear what steps were actually taken to investigate the long-standing allegations of jobs for bribes.
UNDP, which oversees some $6.4 million in tribunal funds, most of which are used to pay Cambodian staff salaries, had originally commissioned the audit in response to concerns over Cambodian human resources management raised late last year.
UNDP spokesman Men Kimseng did not respond to specific questions about the auditor’s investigation Wednesday, saying in an e-mailed statement that: “As the audit found no conclusive evidence, there is no factual basis for UNDP to request such an investigation.”
“I regret this conclusion,” said Hisham Mousar, who has been monitoring the tribunal for local rights group Adhoc.
“It is very difficult to have evidence of kickbacks of salary. Maybe it is impossible, in fact,” he said. But that, he added, does not free UNDP of its fiduciary responsibility to thoroughly investigate corruption allegations and reassure donors that their money is being well spent.
“UNDP cannot say it’s not their responsibility,” he said, adding: “What can we do if the political will is weak in UNDP? We cannot oblige UNDP to investigate.”
ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said Wednesday that the court’s Director of Administration, Sean Visoth, responded quickly and vigorously when the kickback allegations surfaced earlier this year.
He placed boxes around the tribunal headquarters, where people could anonymously lodge complaints, posted signs saying that no bribes should be paid, and established a code of conduct prohibiting kickbacks, which went into effect in March, she said.
Subsequent to the UNDP audit, all but about seven Cambodian staff at the court have signed a mandatory code of conduct obliging them to disclose fraud and corruption and prohibiting them from soliciting payments or gifts in exchange for employment, she added.
Jarvis said the tribunal itself has no plans to further investigate the allegations, which remain unsubstantiated. “In a year, there’s never been any specific allegation that could be investigated,” she said.
She noted that the UN auditors, who were not shy in their criticism of the court’s administration, had found no “convincing evidence that it was worth pursuing any further.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that the government takes all allegations of corruption seriously but he did not know whether the government would pursue an investigation of its own into the kickback allegations.
The tribunal, he added, “has had a lot of problems and controversies. The government is required to find the truth about the allegations, whether they are true or not, and to find the measure of what to do.”
The National Audit Authority Chairman Ut Chhorn declined comment.
Jarvis said that the ECCC posted the full results of the UNDP audit on its Web site Tuesday, after getting clearance from UNDP, which had maintained a steadfast policy of silence about the audit, refusing for months to share the written findings with donors and members of the ECCC’s oversight board.
In its comments to the audit, UNDP said the findings indeed raised “deep concern” and made plain the need for additional safeguards to be put in place.
But the UNDP also emphasized that the tortuous diplomatic negotiations that established the ECCC and laid out the terms of UNDP’s fiscal involvement, restrict UNDP to playing a support role in the court.
Though auditors recommended that UNDP consider taking a more direct management role, both the UNDP and the Cambodian side have dismissed that possibility.
In its comments on the audit, the Cambodian side of the ECCC said: “These recommendations are unacceptable and non-negotiable to the Cambodian side, as to implement them would essentially mean a re-negotiation of the entire basis and character of the ECCC as a national court with international participation and assistance.”
It would be, they argued: “tantamount to internationalizing the ECCC.”