The already financially troubled Cambodian Mine Action Center could face an approximately $450,000 shortfall in December, despite pledges of money from donor nations, UN Development Program officials said during a Thursday meeting of the agency’s steering committee.
This revelation followed a cool response from donors, many of whom said Thursday that there needed to be more proof of reform before they could definitively commit money to the country’s largest demining agency.
Following the discovery in August of widespread mismanagement inside CMAC, several donors froze their funding to the agency, and the international community as a whole demanded an aggressive reform process be started.
CMAC is asking for a total of $15 million from the donors and the government for its year 2000 budget.
But Bill Costello, director of AusAID and a representative of Australia, one of the agency’s largest donors, said this amount may be too high.
Costello noted significant increases in CMAC’s budget—from around $5 million in 1996 to as high as $10 million last year—but said the agency’s budget averaged around $9 million per year, most of which is paid for by donors.
“It’s hard to imagine that more than that is feasible,” Costello said, adding that talks over CMAC’s year 2000 budget are likely to become a “standoff.”
Without at least $10 million, CMAC Director General Khem Sophoan said he would have to cut agency staff.
With a $7 million budget, Khem Sophoan said 900 CMAC staff would be let go, while with $9 million only 700 workers would be fired.
The government’s relatively small contribution to CMAC this year has angered many donors, who were looking for the government to take more responsibility for CMAC and a larger financial stake in its operations.
Faced with CMAC’s possible operational shutdown last month, the government spent a mere $50,000 on the agency, forcing donors to fund the remaining million-plus dollars.
CMAC Chairman Ieng Mouly said CMAC is asking the government for $3 million in its year 2000 budget. “But how much really comes, I don’t know,” Ieng Mouly said Thursday.
Other donors said they were concerned about CMAC’s ability to monitor its operations, saying they instead want an independent monitor to watch the agency.
Donors also said they needed to see more effort to decentralize CMAC’s administration and proof that demined land was going to the intended villagers, and not wealthy developers.
CMAC demining crews, most notably in Kampot province, were found to be engaging in contract demining—demining land for private property owners rather than relocated villagers.
Despite CMAC’s attempts to reform—particularly under the leadership of new Director General Khem Sophoan, who has been praised by donors—there are doubts that reforms outlined by donors would be completed.