Sunday, April 5, 2009

Corruption Is Not A Crime In Cambodia

"I want to help poor people but I don't know how", said Um Ero (white tank top above) one morning in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. Mr. Um Ero is a self proclaimed "corruption fighter".
The problem is, old Um Ero wouldn't know a good case of corruption when he sees it even if it was growing out of his nose. Or would he?

Mr. Um Ero received a letter from Debra J. Hulse, Chief of Party, LAAR Program, Pact Cambodia dated October 1st, 2007. The following is the complete un-edited transcript.

01 October 2007
Mr. Um Ero
Khmer Ghvith Thmei Organization (KTGO)
# 85, 5 Village, Veal Vong Commune
Kampong Cham district
Kampong Cham Province

Subject: Termination of Sub-agreement SAG-07-003-V0 under the USAID funded LAAR Program

Dear Mr. Um Ero,

Pact hereby notifies Khmer Ghvith Thmei Organization (KTGO) of immediate termination of the sub-agreement SAG-07-003-V0, between KTGO and Pact Cambodia, effective 01 October 2007. This agreement is being terminated for cause as allowable within Article 18, "Suspension or Termination for Cause", of the Sub-Agreement dated 01 March 2007.

Pact/LAAR has determined that KTGO is failing to uphold the terms and conditions of the agreement SAG-07-003-V0 as stated under Article 5, "Special Conditions to the Grant Assignment". The indications of inadequate performance and management within the KTGO organization are:

1. Lack of adequate management for quality program implementation as per the following occurrences:

a. Pact/LAAR received notification in mid-July from the KTGO director (Than Thavy) that he was "busy with another project" and would reduce his time in September 2007. At the meeting between Pact staff and KTGO management on 04 September 2007, Pact learned that the KTGO director started working full time with a different organization (DAI) in August 2007 and did not assign anyone else to be acting director.

b. KTGO financial officer has admitted to falsifying the director's signature on official documents during his absence.

c. Upon request of Pact, KTGO director notified the KTGO Board of Directors at a meeting on September 2007 that he would be leaving KTGO (but he did not specify that he was resigning) in order to work for and gain new experiences from DAI. The Board asked the current part-time deputy director who is also a public school teacher to be acting director, during the absence of the director (Than Thavy). Pact did not receive formal notification of Than Thavey's resignation until 12 September 2007, at least one month after he had started working full-time at DAI.

d. KTGO budgeted, as part of this agreement, only 10% of the time of the Deputy Director. This is not considered to be adequate management coverage with the Director not in the office during the work week.

2. The director was deducting 10% from everyone's salary and putting the money in a special bank account to be used as back-up funds to help pay the rent and share the costs incurred in keeping volunteers. He stated that everyone agreed and volunteered to give this money, but there is nothing in writing. Pact was unaware of this hold-back and was covering the full cost of LAAR staff salaries as per the agreement.

3. During a meeting with KTGO staff on 12 September 2007, some staff demonstrated a lack of understanding about LAAR or their responsibilities in working to meet program objectives.

Pact is an organization committed to prevention of corruption. Under Article 18, "Special Provisions," of agreement SAG-07-003-V0 with KTGO, it is stated that "No offer, payment, consideration, or benefit of any kind, which could be regarded as an illegal or corrupt practice, shall be made, promised, sought or accepted--neither directly or indirectly--as an inducement or reward in relation to activities funded under this agreement. . .Any such practice will be grounds for immediate cancellation of this agreement." In this regard, Pact has discovered the following:

4. A field officer at KTGO (Than Sothy) was hired without any formal recruitment process, as was used for hiring of other staff. Director originally told Pact that Than Sothy was a "distant relative" but later admitted that he is in fact his brother.

5. Pact contacted some alleged participants of LAAR trainings provided by KTGO to confirm and got information that conflicted with records from KTGO. Pact staff confirmed that at least one document was submitted to Pact containing forged participant signatures and indicating that per diems were given, though the participants stated they were not.

6. As noted earlier, the director's signature was forged on official documents.

All assets purchased by KTGO with USAID/Pact/LAAR funds are to be immediately relinquished to Pact staff. Attached is a list o the equipment to be returned.

Pact/LAAR will be available to meet with KTGO management, if further clarification is required on above decision. There are two copies of this letter, one in English and one in Khmer. The English copy takes precedent over the Khmer version.


Debra J. Hulse
Chief of Party, LAAR Program
Pact Cambodia

cc: KTGO Board of Directors

What a mess huh? It' great for a watchdog like Hulse to step in to end this nonsense, that's for sure. What was this outfit receiving USA tax money for? Well, here was their self described "pubic face".

"The Khmer Ghivith Thmei Organization (KGTO) is a Kampong Cham-based non-partisan, non-profit, non-governmental organization, registered with the Ministry of Interior since October 2003. The organization is dedicated to poverty reduction and to the promotion of good governance and human rights. Its principal areas of program emphasis include training, support for the Volunteer Youths for Development and Peace Network (VYDAPN), and good-governance/anti-corruption. As a partner of Pact Cambodia, KGTO has used Danida funding to promote increased transparency and accountability and to prevent corruption. KGTO has cooperated with rights-promotion organizations including LICADHO and and CSD, and is a regular participant in the national level Decentralization & Deconcentration Working Group (DDWG).

When I asked Than Thavy if these allegations were true he replied, "Yes." When questioned as to whether he feared being punished he simply stated with a chuckle, "Nah. this is Cambodia!"

As for Mr. Um Ero, as mentioned in the letter above, he is a school teacher. According to a survey conducted by Cambodian Social Development (CSD), 50 percent of all bribe money is paid in the education sector. Don't believe me? Go ask a school kid. Does this guy kind of remind you of Kenneth Lay, the former Enron boss who claimed he didn’t know what was going on? Just asking.

Oh, and about that equipment, some nice stuff including:

6 Motorcycles (Honda Dream C125, 2006) @ $1250 USD each ($7500 total)
6 mega pixel digital camera, $300 USD
2 Filing cabinets @ $120 each

The first time I met Than Thavy he asked, "Why don't you a story on me?" Suddenly his thoughts seemed to vanish though and he waked me outside to proclaim, "Hey, look at the motorcycles America bought me!"

At least this time we got them back. Here is your story sir.

John Brown Photojournalist On LIGHTSTALKERS
My Mondo Library Photographs
My Photoshelter Archive Homepage


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ANorthumbrianAbroad said...

It is very important that cases like this should be documented and fully reported if Cambodia is ever to tackle corruption and other forms of malfeasance. PACT has done excellent work over the years in several fields including countering corruption but as described here it is USAID-funded. USAID as I know from several cases including my own, like many donors is reluctant to take the kind of measures that would apply if crimes are committed in the US. They also shun publicity that with due punishment is the only way to deter malfeasance and accompanying impunity. The fact is this case should have been prosecuted and as the employees are public officials, it should have been referred to the Anti-Corruption Unit. It is the only way too that NGOs that preach high ethical behavior, are held to it themselves.