The country’s largest demining organization announced Thursday plans to gradually cut its staff by a third and reduce the salaries of most remaining employees by 20 percent in an attempt to avoid the same financial crisis that has plagued it during recent months.
Cambodian Mine Action Center Director General Khem Sophoan said Thursday the move would slow down the agency’s demining operations, effectively reducing the number of demining platoons in the field from 60 to 40.
But both he and several donor country representatives said the cuts are necessary to avoid future funding shortfalls. Although CMAC officials budgeted this year for $11.2 million, they only anticipate receiving between $6 million and $7 million from donors, who are still hesitant to turn aid completely on in the aftermath of last year’s financial scandals.
However, diplomats from several of CMAC’s largest donor countries say they remain impressed by reform efforts made within the agency, calling this latest initiative a “highly practical way to go,” in the words of one Western official, who commented that CMAC officials may in fact be inadvertently low-balling the amount of money they may get from donors.
Despite Khem Sophoan’s prediction that demining operations could suffer, the official said many of the administrative reforms and technological improvements experienced by the agency right now could allow more of what money there is to go to field work.
“We’ve seen quite significant actions taken on the personnel and accounting fronts and on the [agency’s] structure in general,” said Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader, whose country’s funding has been primarily responsible to keeping CMAC open during the past few months.
Leader said Australian officials are again looking at contributing funds to CMAC, though he would not say in what amount or when that money may come.
Staff reductions and salary cuts were first introduced by Khem Sophoan late last year as ways to trim CMAC’s operating costs. At that time these options were part of a larger, more drastic package of fiscal alternatives offered to the donors that included the closure of the agency.
While the latest announcement is viewed by many as a common sense decision, some in the international community say they believe the staff reduction plan is a ploy by the Cambodian government and CMAC officials to “coerce” more money from donors, while limiting funds the government has to contribute.