New Director Takes Over Troubled CMAC

After a lengthy speech during which he only indirectly referred to the problems plaguing the Cambodian Mine Action Center, ousted agency head Sam Sotha handed control of the country’s largest demining operation over to Lieutenant General Khem Sophoan.

At Monday’s turnover cere­mony, Khem Sophoan pledged a vigorous reform effort aimed at making the agency’s questionable finances more open to donors. He said he expected the overhaul of the agency’s financial system—his first priority—to be completed in three months. Khem Sophoan said he will then address management issues.

But donors stress the management change is only part of the process needed to restore their confidence. Khem Sophoan is inheriting an agency suffering from allegations of corruption which have outraged donor countries, whose contributions make up at least 90 percent of CMAC’s budget.

A recently released audit blasted the agency’s financial reporting procedures and detailed the misappropriation of almost $500,000.

Three donor countries, in­cluding the US, have frozen their CMAC donations.

US Ambassador Kent Wiede­mann said the US was “cautiously optimistic” about the impact CMAC’s change in leadership will have on the agency’s performance, but was not specific on what it will take for the US to resume contributing money.

“CMAC doing what it is supposed to do,” Wiedemann said. “Removing mines and returning the land to the farmers.”

Several donors said they recently submitted a list of reforms they would like to see implemented by CMAC, but declined to give details.

“If you look at it from a donor point of view, we have to be able to assure our taxpayers that funds will be used for objectives,’’ said Bill Costello, Australia’s first secretary in charge of development cooperations.

CMAC Chairman Ieng Mouly and Khem Sophoan both praised Sam Sotha for his four years of service as CMAC director general, and stressed that he was leaving the agency to assume ‘‘other responsibilities.’’

Sam Sotha said he was proud of CMAC’s accomplishments during his tenure, during which time the agency’s staff doubled, and the focus of the agency shifted from emergency response to efforts more focused on development. (Additional reporting by Adam Piore)

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