Along with countless other civil servants, Funcinpec Senator Khieu Sorn has not received his monthly salary on time.
“I really need the money to see a doctor,” he said last week. “I’m sick. I never receive my full salary on time.”
Khieu Sorn said he received half of his $1,000 monthly salary in July and has received no money for August.
But at least he received some money. More than 200 low-level Ministry of Culture employees have not been paid anything for 16 months of work—this even after they reportedly paid a “commission” to the Ministry of Finance to expedite the payments.
“I feel so sad for them—they worked so hard for the ministry, but their salary has not been paid,” said Hang Soth, director general of technique for the Ministry of Culture. “We are unlucky officials. We are cultural protectors and keepers of the Khmer soul, but we have been paid no attention by the government.”
Late and incomplete salary payments to government employees are nothing new, experts say. The problem, they say, is just one of many stemming from a budgetary system that is rooted in corruption.
“If you want to get paid on time, you have to bribe the money controllers, and then they need to bribe the treasury officer,” said opposition lawmaker Keo Remy, who abstained from voting on the 2003 budget law because he said it lacked detailed information on how the money would be spent. “If you do not bribe, your money will be delayed.”
Provisional budget implementation numbers for 2002 from the Ministry of Finance show that government money rarely ends up where the budget law says it will.
Some institutions spent more money than they were allocated: Last year, the Council of Ministers spent 143.9 percent of its budgeted amount; the Ministry of Finance spent 162.7 percent; the Ministry of Interior spent 181.2 percent; and the National Election Committee spent 262.6 percent.
Other ministries did not spend all the money allocated to them in the 2002 budget law. Of the four “priority” ministries, the Ministry of Social Affairs spent 87.7 percent, the Ministry of Rural Development spent 79.2 percent, the Ministry of Education spent 76.8 percent and the Ministry of Health spent just 59.8 percent.
Budget implementation numbers from the Finance Ministry for the first half of 2003 show that things remain about the same. In the first six months of this year, the Ministry of Social Affairs spent 35.6 percent of the money allocated to it; the Ministry of Education spent 22.2 percent; and the Ministry of Rural Development spent 17.2 percent.
The Ministry of Health is on track to spend an even smaller portion of their budget than they spent last year. From January to August, statistics show, the Health Ministry spent just 21 percent of the money allocated to it in the 2003 budget law.
Officials say the problem is not that the ministries are sitting on their budgets, but that the treasury fails to disburse allocated funds to the ministries. “If the money is in the pocket of the Health Ministry, we can tell you where it goes,” a health official said. “But the money is in the treasury.”
The official acknowledged that Health Ministry employees have paid bribes to treasury officials to get money allocated for the ministry.
“We try to stop it, but it is very difficult,” the official said. “Money just exchanges hands. There is no evidence to convict.”
Officials at the Ministry of Finance deny the charge that government agencies must pay bribes to receive the money allocated to them in the budget.
“In general, everyone must wait to receive their full salary every month,” said Ngy Tayi, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Finance. “If our management is as poor as some politicians claim, maybe the [International Monetary Fund] or the World Bank won’t give us loans.”
In July, the World Bank pulled $6.3 million in funding for a demobilization program after it found a government contract was awarded to a company that did not meet bid requirements. The bank also recently withdrew a proposed $30.7 million loan for the education sector because it said an oversight board on the project was not politically independent.
An IMF mission is scheduled to visit Phnom Penh today to “take stock of recent monetary and fiscal developments” here, according to a statement. Robert Hagemann, the IMF’s resident representative, declined to comment.
As of this week, the National Audit Authority—the independent body that is supposed to be a watchdog of government expenditures—has not gone over the final 2002 budget expenditures.
“Our job is to check where the money goes, if it is spent in the right way, who authorized payment and if there is transparency,” said Sin Po, the authority’s deputy director. “I can’t explain what happened in 2002 because no report has crossed my eyes yet.”
Experts say that instances of corruption are hard to prove, but the climate of corruption that pervades the government hurts the economy.
“If there is a problem, nobody takes the blame,” said an economist who routinely examines budget expenditures. “The ministry blames the treasury. The treasury blames the ministry. Meanwhile, you cannot find anyone to take responsibility.”
Major donors and a conglomerate of NGOs have been pushing for an anti-corruption law since 1994. Nearly a dozen draft laws were tossed around before the Council of Ministers finally approved an anti-corruption draft law in June and sent it to the National Assembly.
“Without an anti-corruption law, the government cannot take action against corrupt officials,” said Heav Veasna, managing director of the Center for Social Development. “Corruption cases are now tried in newspapers.”
The anti-corruption draft law is sitting idle in the Assembly until a new government forms. Heav Veasna said the CSD is concerned that the draft law is “tilted too much in favor of the current government,” since it gives Prime Minister Hun Sen the authority to determine the organization and functioning of the Supreme National Council for Anti-Corruption, the nominally independent body mandated by the law to combat corruption.
But CPP officials say they are committed to fighting corruption and believe the draft legislation will do just that.
“The government would like to fight corruption,” said Sum Manit, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers and head of Public Administration Reform Department. “I belong to the CPP, and I can say that measures are being taken within the party to reform.”