The Cambodian Institute of Human Rights has laid off nearly half its staff, fired its finance director and cut two programs, part of ongoing fallout from a financial scandal.
Also on Friday, the suspended executive director acknowledged establishing an account comprised of kickbacks to institute staff without notifying donors. He said the account was an alternative to letting staff pocket the kickbacks themselves.
The local NGO laid off more than 40 of its 97 staff this week and suspended a program that trains schoolteachers to integrate human rights lessons into the curriculum, said Kassie Neou, still under suspension as executive director.
Another program to promote discussions on human rights and democracy has been slashed in half, he said.
Finance director Nhim Sakal was fired Monday for financial mismanagement, said Meak Marin, vice-chair of the management committee now running CIHR during Kassie Neou’s suspension. The firing follows the release of a PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit conducted on behalf of the program’s international donors after corruption allegations surfaced in January.
Representatives of the European Commission and Sweden’s ForumSYD have continued to freeze donations until reforms are carried out, Kassie Neou said. The two donors comprise more than half the institute’s budget, he said.
Last week European Commission charge d’affairs Aldo Dell’Ariccia said the audit did not provide “a satisfactory explanation of what happened.” CIHR officials have declined to release the audit, citing a clause in the agreement with PriceWaterhouse limiting its distribution to parties familiar with the audit’s procedures.
CIHR plans to form a new board this week, Meak Marin said. The new board will decide on the status of Kassie Neou, who suspended himself when the allegations surfaced, and operations director Steven Pak.
But Kassie Neou said he is considering resigning anyway. While blaming Nhim Sakal for embezzlement, he said he blames himself for letting it occur while he was on leave from the institute last year, working as vice-chair of the National Election Committee. “I hold myself responsible.”
He also acknowledged establishing an account composed of kickbacks offered by providers of services to the institute. Such kickbacks are standard Cambodian practice, he said.
Staff were fighting for the privilege of making purchases to receive a “discount” from various service providers, Kassie Neou said.
Rejecting the kickbacks had no effect on prices, he said. So he established the account, which was designated for the emergency needs of the staff.
Donors were not aware of the account, Kassie Neou acknowledged. He blamed his “poor knowledge in finance” for authorizing Nhim Sakal to establish the account.
Nhim Sakal could not be reached for comment on Friday.