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UN Audit Found Tribunal Fell Short in Staffing

The Khmer Rouge tribunal is struggling under a number of deficiencies, including under-qualified staff, high salary scales and weak evaluation and monitoring of court activities, according to UNDP audit issued in June.

In an audit posted on the Web Tuesday, a UNDP team recommended the UN seriously consider "withdrawing from the project altogether" if the shortcomings were not addressed.

The audit was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC, the official name of the tribunal.

The audit's confidentiality had been a point of contention for human rights and justice advocacy groups, who wanted the findings made public when the audit was completed, following allegations last year that Cambodian judges pay kickbacks to government officials in order to sit in the courts.

The Cambodian side of the tribunal called the UNDP's recommendations "completely out of proportion," "unacceptable," and "non-negotiable."

A statement that accompanied the audit's release said the Cambodian side had long been in favor of publicizing the audit.

The audit row comes just as the tribunal was gaining momentum. Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea was arrested just last month, joining Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch in tribunal custody.

The audit also comes with a looming budget pinch.

In an interview with VOA Khmer in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Monday the tribunal budget was "lacking."

"At about the end of the year, Cambodia and the UN will jointly appeal for an additional budget," he said. "The lack is minimal.... I think that there will be no problem, because the proceedings are going smoothly."

The audit was made public the following day. The now-public document does not include any findings of outright corruption, bribery or kickbacks, long hallmarks of Cambodia's judiciary. Instead, it points out serious mismanagement in hiring practices and other shortcomings.

"If the Cambodian side does not agree to the essential measures at are, from UNDP perspective, necessary to ensure the integrity and success of the project, then serious consideration should be given to withdrawing from participation in the project altogether," the audit report said.

It also cited "serious lapses in recruitment" leading to jobs that "should be nullified." A new job search should be launched "with clearly established procedures under the close supervision of UNDP," the audit says.

The tribunal said in its response this would not be possible, asking where money for such a do-over would come from.

The audit recommended a careful review of Cambodian salaries along with justifications for pay. It found high salary scales for tribunal staff, a significant increase in staff, and staff that did not meet minimum requirements.

In a review of 29 staff files, the audit found 18 people who did not qualify for their jobs.

Auditors found one person working a job requiring a degree in English and a minimum three years experience in professional interpretation. The tribunal employee in that position only had part-time experience interpreting and was pursuing a degree in education.

The audit found a very low number of respondents to job vacancies. Where 50 applicants or more were the norm, according to UNDP-Cambodia, only a handful of Cambodians applied for tribunal jobs. There was only one response for the job of internal auditor.

The Cambodian side of the tribunal issued numerous responses to accusations leveled against it. The most qualified applicants were chosen among those who applied, and job postings had been thoroughly circulated, the tribunal said.