Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, announced Thursday that she plans to leave the prominent social policy research NGO at the end of March.
Her planned departure follows that of Lao Mong Hay, an acerbic social and political commentator who until December had worked as a legal adviser to the NGO, Chea Vannath said.
“Any NGO needs a change and to get new blood to take over, and have new initiatives,” said Chea Vannath, 62, adding that she has been president for 10 years. “Right now the CSD is strong. We have a strong board of directors which was set up almost a year ago, and CSD is financially stable and has secure funding, so it’s time for me to leave.”
Chea Vannath, a Cambodian-American, returned to Cambodia in 1992 and joined CSD after working with Untac and the Asia Foundation.
Keat Sokun, chairman of CSD’s board of directors, said he will regret her departure, adding that despite Chea Vannath’s criticism of government policy, she maintained good relations with the authorities.
“The way she worked is more efficient to get CSD’s messages out to everybody, and her policy is neutral,” he said. “She can talk with the government and represent civil society.”
Pok Than, the current secretary of state at the Ministry of Education who founded the NGO in 1995 before joining Funcinpec, also said he regretted Chea Vannath’s decision.
“Even though the CSD is doing sensitive work, I hope that the replacement will pursue engagement with the government,” he said.
“CSD urges transparency. Our criticism is more constructive” than that of other groups that directly attack the government, he added.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said Chea Vannath should receive an honorary award from the government for her work.
He added that he has registered a new NGO, Parliamentary Center of Cambodia, aimed at strengthening the National Assembly, which he said Lao Mong Hay is planning to join on his return to Cambodia from London in the coming months.