battambang – Han That was looking for work. He was living in a pagoda in the suburbs of Battambang and had no job. So when a friend told him about an NGO offering election jobs, he hurried along to sign up.
The Takhmau Community Development of Agriculture and Industry for Observing the Free and Fair Election in Cambodia asked Han That for $10. In return he got an NGO identity card, a promise of a salary and a national observer card issued by the provincial election commission.
The photograph on the observer card is his. The name reads Ty Pheap, age 31. The same name appears on the NGO identity card, alongside Han That’s picture. The NGO card cities Ty Pheap’s occupation as a member of the Takhmau organization based in Battambang.
“I thought it was funny,” Han That said at his home at Wat Balat, but he didn’t complain about the wrong name on the card. “I was concerned, if I don’t work I wouldn’t get a salary.”
One month later, he is still waiting for his wages. He has been told he will be paid after the election. Han That’s friend hasn’t received any money either. He asked for a higher position in the organization and paid $200 for his card, Han That said. “They promised us a salary,” he said.
Takhmau Community Development of Agriculture and Industry for Observing the Free and Fair Election opened an office in Battambang one month ago. The NGO did not demand a large fee from new recruits, Yim Seap, the Battambang group’s president, said Wednesday.
“It is not true that someone paid $10,” he said. “The staff pay 4,000 riel to pay for the plastic NGO card. Some members pay $50 or $100 when they find a job later on, as a donation to support the organization.”
“If one person came to ask about a job here and then he didn’t want to work here, he would be replaced by someone else,” he said when asked about the discrepancy between name and photograph on the card.
The Takhmau NGO’s mandate is to develop jute products for farmers, but now the jute season is over and members are concentrating on the election, he said.
The NGO has registered 134 people as national election observers, the provincial election commission confirmed Wednesday. Recently released figures from the National Election Commission listed 509 observers nationwide.
Whatever the NGO promised Han That and his friend, no organization should demand a fee for observer cards, said Kong Srun, president of the Battambang provincial election commission.
“We want to know why some NGOs are charging money, to make a problem with the PEC or just for business,” he said. But he added that the commission did not have enough time or resources to investigate. He said promises of work were a matter for the individual NGO, not the provincial commission.
But Kong Srun did concede that the PEC had been negligent in not checking identity cards when it issued the observer cards and insisted officials would be more rigorous in the future. The PEC here has already registered 2,671 people as national election observers for the province.
An independent election observer said Wednesday the scam is widespread. He also was worried the reputation of election NGOs would be sullied by some organizations making money by selling cards. “Maybe they want to weaken neutral associations like Comfrel and Coffel on monitoring the election,” he suggested.