An apparent clash with UN Development Program officials has caused the UNDP’s project coordinator to the Cambodian Mine Action Center to not renew his contract.
Despite favorable reviews from CMAC officials who have praised his management of the troubled agency, Bill Van Ree confirmed Thursday he will be leaving Cambodia in early December and returning to Australia.
Van Ree, who has been credited with helping galvanize CMAC’s fractured contingent of foreign technical advisers and push forward an aggressive agencywide reform plan during his three months here, would not comment on the specifics of his departure.
But technical advisers and even CMAC Director-General Khem Sophoan have hinted at a falling out with the UNDP, including Resident Representative Dominique McAdams, as the reason behind Van Ree’s departure.
“It was a fairly major disagreement in the vision they had for CMAC,” one technical adviser said Thursday, calling Van Ree one of the “linchpins” in CMAC’s current operations.
McAdams said Thursday it was too early to discuss Van Ree’s contract, only saying that he was hired for a three-month period which was ending soon.
She said a replacement for Van Ree has not been discussed and did not comment on whether a new contract was offered.
“This just plunges CMAC into another period of uncertainty during an especially vital time,” the adviser said.
After struggling financially during the last half of the year following a widespread freeze or withdrawal of donor funds, CMAC officials are meeting today with donors to present a detailed reform plan they hope will unlock much needed funding.
Khem Sophoan intends today to present donors with a comprehensive reform plan with the hopes that this will encourage the release of funds for next year. CMAC has on average operated on a $9 million budget in past years but Khem Sophoan said he intends to ask for $11 million for next year.
But at a similar meeting last month, donors reacted coolly towards CMAC’s reform measures—demanded by donors after the discovery of agency-wide mismanagement—and all but said no to a requested $15 million budget.
One Western donor said Thursday CMAC’s funding should not be impacted by Van Ree’s departure if UNDP can quickly find a replacement.
But some CMAC officials are asking if his absence is going to hurt the agency’s reform efforts and have blamed UNDP for failing to support CMAC.
“With the loss of Bill, will CMAC lose the momentum for reform?” one adviser asked. “The two best things to have happened to CMAC are the hiring of Khem Sophoan and the hiring of Bill Van Ree. Why would UNDP not ensure that [Van Ree’s] contract be renewed?”
Khem Sophoan said he petitioned UNDP to retain Van Ree, but was told by Van Ree he is leaving. “He is a good manager and worked very hard for CMAC,” Khem Sophoan said.