Monday, November 27, 2006

Expat pay absorbs aid to Cambodia

Expat pay absorbs aid to Cambodia
Mark Dodd - 27 Nov 06
The Australian

HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars of Australian aid is wasted on expatriate salaries and the running costs of big Cambodian-based international aid groups, hindering assistance to 40,000 landmine victims in the war-battered country.A country director for a prominent international charity typically receives a $250,000 package that includes a spacious villa, four-wheel-drive and schooling perks.

As much as 80 per cent of aid paid to international aid organisations based in Cambodia goes straight out again in the form of high expatriate salary packages and running costs, said Chris Minko, head of the Cambodian National Volleyball League for the Disabled.

He said AusAID's reluctance to directly fund non-Australian aid organisations in Cambodia had created major inefficiencies in the disbursement of funds.

The CNVLD is a well-respected Cambodian aid organisation audited annually by KPMG and recently given a UN best practice award.

In contrast to many of the big aid groups in Phnom Penh, the CNVLD relies on volunteers, has neither a flashy office nor even a four-wheel-drive and pays modest salaries to its staff, most of whom are Cambodians. Yet it has so far been unable to receive core funding from AusAID despite its highly commended programs for landmine victims.

An AusAID spokeswoman denied the wastage claims, but confirmed 12.5 per cent of total funding for landmine victim assistance was paid to the Australian Red Cross to cover disbursement costs, leaving 87.5 per cent for "a variety of NGOs that work directly with victims".

The Howard Government is providing about $8million to help Cambodian landmine victims over the next two years.

Mr Minko called for an audit of the agencies to track the distribution of aid funding. "About 80 per cent of aid money coming into Cambodia goes straight out again as it covers expatriate and adviser costs and that has been going on for a long time," he said.

His claims are backed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has questioned the value of large expatriate-run aid agencies based in Cambodia.

While acknowledging the key role of aid groups in helping the war-battered country out of its economic morass in the early 1990s, the International Monetary Fund is also questioning the value of foreign aid in Cambodia.

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