Voluntary and Charitable Donations – Sunday, 16.5.2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 664
In many societies it is usual that corporations, and rich and not so rich individuals make donations for causes they consider important for the public good. During the past week it was reported that more than US$7 million was collected as donations during the celebration of the Cambodia Red Cross and Red Crescent Society’s anniversary on 8 May; it is the largest humanitarian organization in Cambodia, having also individual Members, and Volunteers. This is an impressive organization which has collected an impressive sum. To see whether or not this is the beginning of a spirit of voluntarism in society, it would be good to know how much the same charitable donors are making available to lift up the economic situation of orphanages, to create and maintain scholarships for needy students from the provinces, to support organizations engaged in the promotion of awareness of the endangered environment and its protection, and many similar endeavors.
In many countries, the Red Cross is one not-for-profit NGO like any other NGO – it receives private and corporate donations, like other NGOs receiving private and corporate donations; often these are encouraged by special tax reduction or tax exemption regulations for supporting such causes for the public good. Over the years I became aware that many persons in Cambodia, dealing with foreign NGOs working in the country, are not aware that these depend to a more or less strong degree on regular private donation, often from people in the middle and lower income brackets in their countries, and not only on public money. But it seems to be hardly a usual feature that Cambodian NGOs, working for the public good, receive similar donations from those who have money, in Cambodia. If there are worthwhile examples, it would be good to have them reported more prominently, and not only for the Cambodian Red Cross and Red Crescent Society.
But whatever the source of such funds – it is usual that that they are accounted for regularly and publicly. One argument of the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, why a special NGO law is necessary, was always that the finances of NGOs – as agencies handling social funds – have to be monitored publicly. Though NGOs have responded that they are subject to regular public audit already, and these audit reports have been available anyway, the request to make their financial records public was always among the main arguments to create such legislation.
Now it is all the more surprising, that the financial volume and the operating procedures of the Social Fund of the government, even it’s existence, referred to sometimes over the years, are not similarly transparent, and there are additional allegations that government representatives have received substantial monies, supposedly for a social fund, which cannot be found in any verifiable public financial record.
The present round of discussions was triggered by reports that an Australian mining company, which had operated for a limited period in Mondolkiri, is under corruption investigation at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, because it is also listed on stock exchanges in the USA. There are allegations that this may relate to payments to Cambodia. While the government was asked for precise, detailed information supported by documents, to be presented to the National Assembly, additional questions were added relating to payments from the French company Total. Some of the related, but not clarified pieces of information:
- The Indonesian company Medco Energi said they paid US$4.5 million into a government social fund.
- The Australian company BHP Billiton paid US$ 2.5 million as “tea money” – according to a statement by the Minister of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology in the National Assembly.
- Payments of US$20 million by the French oil company Total, paid as a “signature bonus,” are not publicly traceable.
- In addition, some of the monies are said to have be designated to pay for specific activities in Mondolkiri or in Pursat etc., but different, related information, cannot be reconciled.
Now the Prime Minister gave the task to explain the situation to the National Assembly to two Deputy Prime Ministers, the Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An, and the Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon. According to Mr. Phay Siphan, the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister “said that all revenues must go to the national budget.” Obviously that is not what happened so far.
Interesting explanations and revelations relating to the past can be expected – combined with the hope that the order of the Prime Minister will be molded into clear administrative procedures for the future.
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