Top government administrators have defended a move to double the number of high-level ministry jobs as necessary for “national reconciliation,” while observers warned that the increase may alienate international donor trust.
The move comes after recent criticism from the UN Development Program, one of the government’s key technical reform partners, that the government has shown an unwillingness to organize its bloated civil service.
One senior CPP government administrator said Tuesday that the proliferation of jobs at the top levels of government is the “Cambodian style” of compromise.
“My idea is that it’s sometimes better to spend more in the budget [on salaries] than on fighting and confrontation that would lead to bloodshed, or could we say, disaster,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
But others said this week that a larger government could threaten some international aid from donors who have called for cuts in the bloated administration.
Government civil service reform was a priority for International Monetary Fund money, which was cut off in 1996 after the government did not meet IMF reform benchmarks.
In the new government agreement, made by a CPP-Funcinpec working group last month and approved by the National Assembly on Monday, top government jobs will likely double from the last government, from about 100 in 1993 to at least 200.
The coalition agreement created two new ministries and made one secretariat into a ministry.
Each ministry, with two exceptions, has two state secretaries, one from the CPP and one from Funcinpec. Most ministries will employ five state undersecretaries, three of whom will be members of the party in control of the ministry portfolio, officials said.
That means the new government is likely to appoint a total of about 170 state secretaries and undersecretaries, compared to 79 appointed in 1993. And 27 ministers were appointed this time, compared with 17 in 1993, not counting ministers of state.
From 1993 to 1998, the government expanded slightly, boosting several state secretariats into ministries and promoting various officials.
Part of the compromise took into account Funcinpec’s fear that CPP officials appointed to a Funcinpec portfolio would usurp the ministry’s power, as Funcinpec alleged happened in the last coalition administration.
The new interparty agreement thus includes a one-party chain of command to satisfy Funcinpec, but more jobs for the CPP. Essentially, the state secretary and the state undersecretaries from the party in control of the portfolio assume ministerial duties should the minister leave the country or become ill, officials said.
An Asian diplomat said Wednesday he believes the increase in Cabinet jobs will dismay the IMF and other major lenders. “They won’t say it directly, but they will reduce the amount [of aid] most probably,” he said.
To regain millions of IMF dollars and satisfy reform partners and donors, the government will have to make cuts in other areas, said Peter Schier, country director for the democracy-building Konrad Adenauer Foundation, on Wednesday. For instance, Schier noted advisers or bodyguards for government officials could be reduced drastically or dropped altogether.
Donor nations are expected to meet to discuss aid to Cambodia early next year.
Nady Tan, the Council of Ministers’ secretary-general, on Tuesday estimated that Cambodia has roughly 160,000 names on the civil service rolls—about twice as many as needed for this country’s land mass and population.
A UNDP-advised public administration reform plan ended prematurely in 1997 except for one technical program. The public administration plan will be resumed “as soon as the royal government shows signs of real commitment,” a UNDP report released on October said. UNDP officials declined to comment this week on how they view the expansion in the top levels of government.
Nady Tan downplayed the increase in cost to the government, saying the administration will transfer redundant employees from other ministries and use old government buildings for new ministry space. However, increasing the number of Cabinet jobs will not lighten the government’s administrative load, Nady Tan cautioned. “You do not alleviate the load of the government by creating jobs within the government,” Nady Tan said.