The former chief of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, Sam Sotha, said Friday the government has named him as director-general of a new regulatory body to oversee all demining in Cambodia.
Sam Sotha was sacked from CMAC last year in the wake of a series of corruption scandals during his tenure as director-general of the high-profile humanitarian organization. The move was largely an effort to appease donors, who have reduced funding and repeatedly threatened to cut it off entirely unless CMAC cleans up its act.
Prime Minister Hun Sen subsequently appointed Sam Sotha his chief adviser on land mine issues, and many in the donor community say he retains much of his control over the organization.
Sam Sotha said the decision was made in an August 24 meeting between himself, Minister of Cabinet Sok An and Hun Sen to discuss a draft subdecree setting up the regulatory body. Hun Sen will act as president of the authority and Sok An will be its deputy president, Sam Sotha said.
Donors have long called for an independent authority to oversee the country’s three major demining agencies, of which CMAC is the largest.
But it’s up to the government to call the shots on how that organization should be structured, Sam Sotha said.
When asked if the appointment would anger donors, he replied, “it’s not for them to be satisfied. This is a government decision.”
Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot agreed, saying it was the government’s business—not the donors’—to decide who should head the body.
“It’s fine by me,” he said Friday. “This is the man the prime minister has decided to appoint, and this is the man I’m going to deal with.”
He added that the appointment wouldn’t change his relationship with CMAC. “Sam Sotha hasn’t been out of play,” he said. “For the last year he’s been very much involved. It’s basically just confirming him in the structure of the organization.”
But others said the move indicates that the government isn’t serious about reform. A diplomat representing a major donor said the move may well lead to more funding cuts.
“Donors would need to be convinced that any new arrangement wouldn’t [lead to the repetition of] some of the mistakes of the past,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.