Demining Group Emerges From Scandal Somewhat Poorer

Approximately one year after allegations of corruption forced Cambodia’s largest demining organization to lay off close to 2,000 employees, restructure their administration and institute major reforms to combat financial irregularities, the organization is back on track, officials said.

The Cambodian Mine Action Cen­ter, which was accused in 1999 of embezzlement, misuse of foreign and domestic funds as well as fiscal mismanagement and nepotism, also lost a substantial amount of their funding base after donors froze their assistance to CMAC in 2000. Almost all donor countries have resumed their funding, officials said.

While almost all countries have resumed funding CMAC through the Trust Fund—a fund operated by the UN Develop­ment Program which oversees and channels money from donor countries to CMAC—several nations, such as France and Canada, have either not given the promised economic aid or changed funding tactics.

Canada no longer gives money directly to CMAC through the UNDP’s Trust Fund. Canadian Am­bassador Norman Mailhot said Canada is instead giving approximately $2 million for a Level One Survey, which will map out every parcel of land in Cambodia and take an inventory of all mines.

In addition, France has not delivered a promised $730,000 for three years worth of demining pledges, CMAC General Mana­ger Khem Sophoan said. The money would be used to support two CMAC platoons doing demining work in Preah Vihear prov­ince, to Khem Sophoan said.

The French Embassy did not return The Cambodia Daily’s phone calls.

CMAC receives an estimated $13 million from donors, with $5 million channeled through the UNDP Trust Fund and another $8 million given bilaterally by Germany, the Nether­lands and CARE International, Khem So­phoan said. The $5 million channeled through the UNDP for 2001 marks a significant increase in donor assistance from last year, said John Brittain, public affairs officer for the UNDP. In 2000, the level of funding from donors dropped 20 percent from the 1998 and 1999 levels.

The reason for this was the CMAC scandal, Brittain said, adding that the $13 million CMAC now receives is equal to the funding levels in 1995 and 1996.

Some countries, such as Swe­den, did not cut their donations to CMAC during the scandal crisis. Daniel Asplund, counselor for the Swedish Embassy extension office in Phnom Penh, said Swe­den did not cut their funding to CMAC because “we never use funds as leverage to reform,” adding that it was an “overreaction” when the donors pulled out or froze their money to CMAC.

Khem Sophoan said the cut in donor money last year was devastating for CMAC.

“During the financial crisis of 1999, when the donors stopped funding CMAC, the deminers had no money and greatly suffered. The 2,000 who lost their jobs were forced to work as farmers or sell ice cream or work as moto drivers,” he said. “The people in the provincial districts were worried that CMAC would not return to do any demining—their land was contaminated with mines.”

Starting in October 2000—when the organization began the layoffs—CMAC lost 52 platoons and employed only 15 demining crews in Siem Reap, Battambang and Samlot. A platoon has 29 deminers, Khem Sophoan said.

In January 2001, CMAC began to rehire personnel and by June they had increased the number of platoons to 46, which is still 21 platoons less than they employed before the scandal broke.

From October 2000 to January 2001—the time when CMAC was most understaffed—the number of individuals wounded or killed by land mines did not increase significantly, according to the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System monthly report.

The report showed that the number of people affected by mines actually decreased, from 46 in Oct 1999 to 38 in Oct 2000.

 

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