The Council for Administrative Reform—which has been years in the making—has nearly completed the first phase of its work, which has included registering public servants in a database and using those records to manage the government payroll.
Now that Cambodia knows how many public servants work for its ministries, officials are asking this question: What exactly is the role of a government employee?
The response is not as obvious as it might seem, said Council of Ministers Secretary of State Sum Manit, who also serves as secretary-general of the reform council.
Administrative reform’s second phase will try to answer the question by defining the services that ministries offer the public, the quality of services they should be expected to maintain and the qualifications and training required for public servants.
But so far, efforts to reform Cambodia’s civil service have not led to a more user-friendly government, according to the joint NGO statement to donors issued June 12.
Administrative reform was one of the priorities set by donors at last year’s meeting in Tokyo.
One goal of reform is to make government employees understand that their primary role is to serve the public, the NGO statement said.
To curb corruption, reform efforts should emphasize that it is a privilege to hold a government position, and that there are ethical and moral responsibilities that go along with being a civil servant, the NGOs said.
About 9,000 people have been eliminated from the government payroll because of the inventory, Sum Manit said. Non-existent employees or people who had taken over the positions of friends or relatives and who were being paid under the names of the original employees have now been kicked off the government payroll, he said.
The inventory also identified workers who were claiming family allowances for more children than they actually had.
The inventory will save the government about $1.2 million per year, which could be used to increase the salaries of public servants, Sum Manit said.
A central database, containing the name, training, position, photo and fingerprint of each of the 160,000 public servants, is now used for payroll. Public employees will soon be issued identification cards.
Analyzing how the government delivers its services could take 18 months, and will begin with the rural development, agriculture, education and health ministries. This phase will also look at whether certain services should be delivered by commune, district or provincial officials.
“We want to modernize public service so that it can support accelerated development in the country,” Sum Manit said.
But in the meantime, public servants continue to face low salaries—often as low as $10 to $20 per month, the NGO statement said.
The reform council has put in place a wage scale classification system. The objective is to give public servants salaries comparable to private sector employees by 2006. This would mean the lowest classification level of civil servants would earn about $40—the same as many garment workers, Sum Manit said.
This is a step in the right direction, the NGO statement said. But government workers in the health sector have received such small salary increases under the new system that public health workers are discouraged and the quality and availability of public health services continues to be jeopardized, according to the NGO statement.
And yet, when health workers receive bonuses based on their performance, the quality of health care service has shown improvement, the statement said.
To continue to be effective, reform should include anti-corruption mechanisms so that hiring and wage increases and bonuses are allocated fairly and in a transparent way, the NGOs said.
The NGO Education Partnership, which represents about 30 NGOs in the education field, said in its statement to the CG that, in addition to receiving low salaries, teachers are being paid late because the Ministry of Education does not receive its budgeted funds from the Ministry of Finance on schedule.
“This lack of finances results in a system of unofficial payment of school/teacher fees by parents, which excludes poor children because of their inability to pay,” said the education NGOs.
The third phase of administrative reform will be to reorganize services and train the staff, with the ultimate goal of doing more with fewer employees, Sum Manit said.
“A reform of this magnitude cannot be done rapidly,” said Alain Benicy, principal adviser to the reform council. But with the employee database in place, the pace of the reform will now quicken, he said.