The Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal will run out of funds as early as April and needs an additional $4.7 million to see it through to the end of 2008, the court’s auditor said this week.
“We worry about the continuation of the activity of the court,” said Key Kak, the chairman of Morison Kak & Associates, which conducts regular independent audits of the Cambodian side of the court.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has not made any official figures public, but sources close to the court say the tribunal is likely to need an additional $100 million to continue its work through early 2011.
The ECCC delayed its fundraising appeal-now tentatively scheduled for January-in the wake early this year of strong criticism of the court’s management and allegations of kickbacks for jobs.
Since then, donors have taken a strict line on reform at the ECCC, but diplomats said there has been little public progress on hammering out the details of a reform agenda that is acceptable across the donor community and to the Cambodian side of the court.
“We have said clearly that to continue with our money and for future funding, we should see clearly the end of the tunnel [on reform]. We are waiting,” said Rafael Dochao Moreno, the charge d’affaires for the European Commission in Cambodia and a member of the Project Board, which oversees $6.4 million in UNDP-managed funds for the Cambodian side of the ECCC.
Despite the tussles, some say the court’s work is unlikely to be disrupted for want of funds, especially given the recent rush of judicial progress, which has seen five former Khmer Rouge leaders arrested and charged.
“We have always found the money for Sierra Leone, Yugoslavia, Rwanda. Everybody always drags their feet but they come up with the money,” said one diplomat on condition of anonymity.
Many are awaiting a decision from the US as to whether it will initiate funding. The US Embassy in Phnom Penh and the US War Crimes Office, both part of the US State Department, have warmed to the idea of funding the ECCC, but some in Congress still remain skeptical.
“We recall that Hun Sen did not want the KRT [Khmer Rouge Tribunal] in 1997 when this process of ‘justice’ began…. And we know that his opinion has not changed since then—despite the apparent progress the KRT has made to date,” one senior congressional staffer said by e-mail.
One of the biggest outstanding issues is how-and whether-UN leadership at the ECCC will be strengthened.
Two independent reviews earlier this year recommended bolstering the UN’s role, but the Cambodian side has resisted structural change on the grounds that the delicate balance of power within the court, which took 8 years to negotiate with the UN, must not be disrupted.
Donors have floated the idea of creating a special UN advisor position at the tribunal. “We, as all major donors, think it’s a good idea but the details have not been worked out,” Dochao Moreno said.
Another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that proposal may merely add more layers to an already confused bureaucracy.
“If we ask for a new structure on the international side, they will as for a similar thing on the Cambodian side. It’s parity,” he said.
He instead urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint someone to oversee Khmer Rouge tribunal issues in New York.
Currently, the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Controller are all variously responsible for tribunal issues. Those tangled lines of reporting between Phnom Penh and New York have undermined UN leadership at the tribunal, according to people within the court and the diplomatic community.
“You need someone to facilitate access, someone who finds solutions, who picks up the phone and finds the right answer when needed,” said the diplomat. At the moment, he said, “Nobody is eager to stick their neck out for this court.”
ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis declined comment pending a more concrete proposal on the issue. “We’ll wait and see what is concretely proposed,” she said.
While the reform debate has been publicly portrayed as a face-off between the international and Cambodian side of the court, the reality is more complex.
Some Cambodian court staffers say the nagging criticisms of the court are a drain on morale and productivity, and they too would like to see stronger international leadership.
“Under foreign management we know it’s about rules and regulations,” one Cambodian staffer said on condition of anonymity.
“On the Cambodian side, everything is bound by connections and favors. People don’t respect the boss because they have some connection outside—their relative is higher ranking than the boss.”
He said he was also frustrated by the poor performance of some of his peers but added that more recent hires, made with UN input, seem to be well qualified for their positions.
The Cambodian side of the court has already implemented a number of reforms, chief among them a job matching exercise to ensure that staffers are actually qualified for their posts.
Jarvis said job matching was completed in early December, and the results will be presented to the ECCC’s Project Board in January.
Two independent consultants, along with staff from the court’s personnel office and a UNDP monitor sifted through employee records to determine whether staffers met the minimum qualifications for their jobs.
High-level personnel, including judges, the Cambodian co-prosecutor, the Director of Administration, and the Chief of Public Affairs were exempt from the review, as were low level staffers, like drivers and cleaners, Jarvis said.
A diplomat familiar with the results said that about 20 percent of Cambodian court employees were found unqualified.
Those positions will be re-advertised, he said. Partially qualified employees will be able to reapply for their posts, but the fraction-less than 10 percent, he said-who do not match at all with their jobs will not be permitted to reapply.
The long-running allegations of jobs-for-kickbacks have yet to be laid to rest, but many in the donor community now say that the best way to tackle the allegations may be to redress hiring irregularities rather than launch a direct investigation.
“The court has to be clean and the people who run it have to be perfectly matched for the jobs they’ve got. Once we’ve settled that issue, you’ve probably settled the rest,” the diplomat said, adding: “We understand the Cambodian authorities know they are under 360 degree supervision on that.”
Key Kak said on Tuesday that like UNDP auditors, his team had found no evidence of kickbacks. But, he added, given the conditions under which the audit was conducted, he could not have reasonably expected such information to come to light.
Morison Kak questioned both staff and management about the kickback allegations. All interviews were on-the-record, and recorded in signed statements.
“We asked if the allegations were correct. Of course, they say no,” he said.
The Cambodian side of the court maintains it has done its part to put an end to any potential graft, by installing boxes for anonymous complaints and creating a mandatory code of ethics for employees.
But those measures are regarded by some within the court as a bit comical.
“I don’t know where they hide that [suggestion] box,” said one Cambodian staffer.
Another employee said: “Who do they think they’re kidding? It just makes them look silly.”
Jarvis said the suggestion boxes have been placed in every restroom at the court. She said that to her knowledge, no complaints have yet been received.