Prime Minister Hun Sen has proposed senior Cambodian Mine Action Center officials cut nearly all of the agency’s staff, a move that would effectively shut down the country’s largest demining outfit, until enough international money is contributed to resume operations.
In a Monday night meeting with what has been described as a standing committee for the agency, Hun Sen suggested sacking 90 percent of CMAC’s personnel if an immediate influx of donor support is not received, CMAC Chairman Ieng Mouly and former director-general Sam Sotha said Tuesday.
Ieng Mouly said CMAC’s governing council must decide later this month whether to follow Hun Sen’s advice.
Hun Sen was angered at what he called a lack of support for the agency from donor nations and would use CMAC’s imminent closure to force money from the international community, Ieng Mouly asserted Tuesday.
“If there is no possibility of funds from donors, there is no other alternative [other than to shut CMAC down],” said Ieng Mouly, who attended the meeting that included Sam Sotha, new Director-General Khem Sophoan, CMAC governing council member and CPP army general Pol Saroeun and Mol Roeup, a key Hun Sen military adviser.
Ieng Mouly and Sam Sotha—who was fired from his CMAC post in August but was later named Hun Sen’s adviser on land mine issues—both said the prime minister is upset because he feels CMAC has bent enough to donor demands and still has not seen a resumption of donor aid.
“[Donors] asked to remove the director general and that was done. There is reform. Their own audit report is good. What else to they want?” asked Sam Sotha.
Under Hun Sen’s proposal, the remaining 10 percent of CMAC’s personnel would be kept on to maintain the agency’s offices and vehicles, both Ieng Mouly and Sam Sotha said.
Monday’s meeting, according to Ieng Mouly, was held to ask Hun Sen to help release government funds for CMAC, which is facing an effective shutdown at the end of this month without more money.
Hun Sen agreed to allocate $50,000 to the agency, but that is only a fraction of the $1.5 million needed to keep CMAC running for the remainder of the year. It is unclear if the $50,000 will be used for demining operations or go to the agency’s governing council.
“We were trying to convince [Hun Sen] to get more money for CMAC but for the time being that is not possible,” Ieng Mouly said.
Uncharacteristically beleaguered, Ieng Mouly accused both the government and donors of “playing politics with demining.”
“It is very difficult for me because of this. We will try our best but [a shutdown] is a possibility,” Ieng Mouly said.
Ieng Mouly and Khem Sophoan met Tuesday with the new UNDP Project Coordinator Bill van Ree to discuss possible financial alternatives for the agency.
Van Ree said he will approach some of CMAC’s key donors about releasing funding to help keep the agency running. “We are very concerned about securing funding for operations,” van Ree said.
With financial crisis at CMAC looming, donors are looking toward the government to shoulder more of the burden of running it, with an annual budget of around $12 million, supported 90 percent by donor funding.
The government budgeted approximately $1.7 million this year for the agency and has spent only a small amount of that money according to some donors.
“The donors are looking for initiatives from CMAC and the government,” van Ree said.
Australia, one of CMAC’s biggest contributors, recently agreed to release $300,000 to CMAC. But this was done with the hope of more money coming from the government, according to AusAID Director Bill Costello. Costello said Tuesday he was unaware of Hun Sen’s proposal and could not comment on it.
In an Oct 1 letter to UNDP Resident Representative Dominique McAdams, Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader wrote, “…clear evidence of Royal Government ownership of and commitment to CMAC is so vital. Australia hopes to see its contribution more than matched by a significant financial contribution from the Royal Government.”
Many of CMAC’s other donors have no money to give to the agency, according to diplomatic sources who said it will likely be next year before their governments can authorize more funding for CMAC.
CMAC recently lost a $1 million cash contribution from the US after it failed to reform its financial reporting process in time for the US State Department to disburse the money.
Two other donor nations are withholding several million dollars while CMAC reforms itself. An audit of donor funds completed last week allegedly showed no evidence of fraud, but CMAC officials have refused to release the report to the public. An earlier audit of CMAC’s use of government money revealed widespread financial mismanagement.
Some CMAC donors were stunned that deminers in Kampot province had cleared land owned by former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin, who was implicated in the killings of three western backpackers in 1994.