Amid Doubts and Complaints, New Pay Scheme Set To Take Effect

Civil Servants Say They Haven’t Received Bonus Pay in Six Months

A long-awaited civil service pay reform scheme was scheduled to take effect yesterday, though many details had yet to be determined and civil servants continued to complain that they had not received their much-needed salary bonuses in six months.

The new scheme, dubbed “Priority Operating Costs,” or POC, will replace a complex bonus system that the government abruptly jettisoned in December, taking international aid donors by surprise.

But it was unclear yesterday whether Prime Minister Hun Sen had put his signature to the sub-decree that would formally create the new system.

Pieter van Maaren, country director for the World Health Organization, said yesterday that despite the July 1 deadline for implementing POC, many details remained to be hashed out between the government and its development partners.

“Obviously there is some last-minute rush to get everything done, [and] it cannot be implemented until the sub-decree has been signed,” he said. “Specific guidelines are still under preparation, so it is not yet entirely clear how it will eventually look like. That can only be seen once all the guidelines have been finalized.”

When implemented, the system will set uniform, government-wide rates for civil service bonuses, he said.

“Clearly there are differences between ministries in terms of how the POC will be implemented but the rates that have been set by the [Council of Administrative Reform] are universal and are the same for all the ministries, so there will be no differences or exceptional circumstances,” he said.

Under both the previous regime and the new POC scheme, civil servants working on donor-funded development projects in key sectors such as health and education are to receive monthly supplements to their low salaries.

According to a senior civil servant who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, he and his peers are not thrilled about the changes because nearly all high-ranking government workers will receive a lower supplement than they did before.

New bonus rates have been set and signed off on by Cabinet Minister Sok An, he said, although the prime minister has still not approved them. These range from $60 per month for a lower-level civil servant to $400 for a project director. However, according to the source, the previous bonuses topped out between $1,000 and $1,500.

“Sure it is sad but we have no choice because the government made the decision already,” he said.

More worrying, the civil servant continued, was the fact that no government workers have received any bonuses since December, when donors stopped paying them until a new compensation scheme could be hashed out.

He said that a group of senior civil servants was preparing to send a letter to the Council of Ministers requesting payment of these back wages at the previous, higher rate. This request was also made to government officials and donors at a meeting at the Health Ministry yesterday, he added.

Mam Sophal, who manages the AIDS office at the Phnom Penh health department, confirmed that he too had not received a bonus since January.

However, Mr Sophal said lower-level civil servants were happier with the new scheme, which narrows the gap between the highest and lowest paid civil servants.

“The new rates for the POC program recently determined by the government will really benefit local level officials who directly perform tasks, like myself,” he said.

“With the new rates, from the lowest $60 to the highest $400, they just give serious impact to the national and senior level officials in the ministry…who have previously been paid more than $1,000 per month,” he added.

Mr Sophal said he stands to get a $30 raise when the POC increases his monthly salary from $80 to $110.

Dr Van Maaren of the WHO said that the government and aid agencies were still negotiating how and whether to apply the POC retroactively, compensating workers for their six months without bonuses.

“There is not one solution for all. It has to be discussed,” he said.

Prak Sokhon, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, said he was to busy to talk to a reporter. Eang Sophalleth, an assistant to the prime minister, said he was unsure whether the premier had signed the sub-decree because Mr Sophalleth was on vacation.

Dr Van Maaren emphasized that aid donors still consider the POC a temporary measure, not a mechanism for long-term civil service reform.

“The POC is a temporary arrangement, and it should not be seen in the context of civil service reform or any other reform measure,” he said. “It is an arrangement for compensation.

“Let’s put it this way. In an ideal situation, the development partners would not exist at all and the government would take full care of compensation and salaries,” he added. “How this will look in the long-term is very difficult to say. A lot depends on how the development of Cambodia is going to take shape in the next 15 to 20 years.”

 

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