The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Monday made public an edited copy of the closely-guarded UN Development Program audit report, which reveals serious flaws in Cambodian recruitment practices at the court.
Public pressure had been building for the release of the audit findings, as the court prepares to launch a much-needed fundraising campaign later this month.
“The ECCC has nothing to hide,” ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said Monday evening. “We had always wanted the findings to be known,” she said of the report that was posted on the ECCC’s Web site.
UNDP, however, has steadfastly maintained a policy of silence on the controversial findings.
UNDP Resident Representative in Cambodia Douglas Gardner said Monday that the audit results were only shared with the Cambodian side of the ECCC, which was in line with internal policy mandates.
Such confidentiality ensures that all parties to the audit can speak freely to solve the problems at hand, Gardner said in an interview.
According to the draft copy of the audit, which UNDP commissioned late last year in response to concerns over hiring practices, flaws were discovered in the court’s recruitment procedures.
Those flaws were considered so serious that auditors recommended nullifying all staffing decisions, and said the UNDP should seriously consider withdrawing from the project.
The auditors objected to what they described as inflated Cambodian salaries, which they said far outstripped established local pay scales, and bloated staffing tables.
According to the draft, a copy of which was obtained last week, top ECCC Cambodian staffers earn $2,300 to $5,300 a month. The auditors said the highest paid national professional posting they could find to compare with in a local donor-funded project was for a project director, who netted $1,200 a month.
The auditors also said the court’s 2007 budget calls for 52 “excess” staff positions, at a cost of $357,000, not foreseen in the court’s 2004 budget estimate.
Jarvis said Monday that it was impossible in 2004 to forecast the growth in the court’s staffing needs, adding that the ECCC provided UNDP with full justification for the 52 extra positions in January 2007.
Defending the high pay rates for Cambodia staff, which per a diplomatic agreement establishing the court are to be paid half what their international UN counterparts earn, Jarvis said the 50 percent calculation had never been properly clarified: Should it be 50 percent of net or gross UN salaries? Should it take into account additional benefits?
The auditors, however, argued that a tax exemption for Cambodian ECCC staff was not taken into account when calculating the 50 percent rate. As a result, they said, Cambodian salaries exceed the 50 percent of international UN salaries by an average of 46 percent.
Jarvis said Monday that no decision has been taken to reduce Cambodian staff salaries.
Cambodian staff have been recruited—and signed employment contracts—based on the current compensation system, she added.
The audit also pointed out serious irregularities in the hiring procedure.
Eighteen of 29 employees, whose personnel files auditors reviewed, did not meet the qualifications for their jobs. In one case, the job called for a degree in English and a minimum of three years experience in interpretation, but the selected candidate, who was paid $3,500 a month, had only part-time experience as a translator and was pursuing a degree in education.
In another case, a person with experience as an English teacher and a six-month administrative internship was hired for a position requiring three years of accounting experience.
In their response to the auditors, the ECCC expressed confidence in its selection process. The need to staff the court quickly contributed to perceived shortfalls in education and experience, they said. A job matching process, to ensure that staffers are in fact qualified, is to be completed by the end of this year, they added.
Procedural irregularities also abounded. In one case, a candidate was hired for a position he did not apply for. In another, a candidate’s job application letter was dated the day after she was offered a contract.
In its response, the ECCC said most of those irregularities were honest mistakes.
The scope of the audit did not include judges appointed to the tribunal by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, nor were auditors able to access the records of 28 Cambodian employees appointed by the government during the court’s start-up phase.
In 2006, four of those staffers received large raises—in one case the staff member’s salary jumped from $650 to $2,850 a month—auditors said.
Jarvis said that those raises had all been approved by UNDP.
Three of the staffers in question, she said, had taken on expanded responsibilities, which justified their increased salary.
The fourth, whose salary went from $1,000 to $2,300 a month, had been underpaid to begin with, she said, adding that the international chief of the section in question at the court had also signed off on the raise.
The auditors also said that no press officer was budgeted for the court’s first year of operations. The court’s press officer, who was appointed by the government, was paid $31,900 for his first year.
Jarvis said the court could not have functioned adequately without him. “How we could have operated for 18 months without him is beyond me,” she said.
Auditors also said that international staff had been excluded from Cambodian human resources decisions, a practice that Jarvis said was actually in line with the agreement that set up the court. Subsequent to the audit, she said, international section chiefs have full oversight of recruitment.
Jarvis also said the auditors cut short their visit and cancelled exit interviews with the court’s head of personnel and director of administration.
“If they had brought some of these perceived irregularities to our attention, we could have clarified them,” she said.
The UNDP draft audit also calls into question the strength of UNDP’s fiduciary oversight of the tribunal.
The Project Board of the ECCC is chaired by the ECCC’s Director of Administration, Sean Visoth, creating what auditors called a potential conflict of interest.
The ECCC maintains that there is no conflict of interest in the oversight structure because the chairperson does not have power to act unilaterally or overrule the board.
The UN side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal has never been given an official copy of the audit findings, nor have diplomats from donor countries and members of the Project Board, which oversees some $6.4 million in donor funds for the Cambodian side of the court.
A copy of the actual audit report began to circulate among the diplomatic community in Phnom Penh Friday, though by Monday not all embassies appeared to have received it.
Rafael Dochao-Moreno, charge d’affaires for the European Commission, which has contributed 1 million Euros (about $1.42 million) to the Cambodian side of the court, said Monday afternoon that he received copies of the audit from two unofficial sources.
The EC, he added, has been requesting an official copy of the audit from UNDP since at least June, but instead the UNDP has provided Project Board members with oral briefings.
Those oral briefings and the written report are substantively the same, he said.
“I cannot say this is totally perfect, but we agreed on going in the right direction,” he said.
Gardner emphasized Monday that policies have been put in place to shore up the integrity and efficiency of the court and reassure taxpayers that their money is being well spent.
He pointed to the creation of a staff manual and new, mandatory code of conduct, which explicitly outlaws kickbacks.
“We’re working closely with the ECCC and [Project] Board members to get these actions set up,” he said.
“We’re trying to ensure that new recruitment follows the letter of the procedural manual and that contract extensions are done in a transparent manner.”