Finance Minister Keat Chhon announced a new plan on Thursday to cut down on rampant state corruption by dispersing three-quarters of non-tax revenue to ministries and their employees as financial “rewards.”
But an opposition lawmaker said the move amounted to little more than legalizing the corruption that already existed in the civil service.
With Anti-Corruption Unit chief Om Yentieng by his side, Mr. Chhon laid out the bare bones of his plan to redistribute cash collected by civil servants from service charges, fines and other non-tax sources.
“More than 22 percent will go to the national budget, while 77 percent will go to the ministries, including for the encouragement of their officers’ interest,” Mr. Chhon said ahead of a closed-door meeting at the Finance Ministry.
Documents regarding the “reward” plan handed out at the event gave the ministries a slightly lower share than the minister mentioned.
“Collecting the state revenue is to reward them [the ministries] with 70 percent of the total income,” the document states.
Neither Mr. Chhon nor the document offered details on how the ministries would distribute the reward money to their staff.
Mr. Chhon did say that the Finance Ministry had made official arrangements with 18 fellow ministries for the rewards sharing deal and that 11 of them had reported collecting 263 billion riel, or $65,750,000, in non-tax revenue in 2012.
Taking Mr. Chhon’s announced 77 percent split, that would mean some $50,627,500 would go back to the ministries and staff as rewards.
Mr. Chhon added that the Finance Ministry was still waiting on the other seven ministries to report.
The Anti-Corruption Unit’s Mr. Yentieng said he was confident the plan would help stem graft among state employees.
“With the rewards, we encourage the ministries by giving them some of the income,” he said.
Low civil service salaries are often blamed for the rampant corruption that permeates the government.
But Son Chhay, a lawmaker for the opposition SRP, said giving ministries back more of the revenue they collect as salary bonuses would only serve to legalize, even spur, the very corruption the plan purports to want to stamp out.
“Now they are going to officially legalize the state stealing, it’s not going to change anything,” he said. “Only Keat Chhon would come up with that…idea.”
Mr. Chhay also doubted that the money, after making it back to the ministries, would be divided up fairly among staff. As always, he said, “the guy on the top will get more and the guy on the bottom will get less.”
What the government ought to do to tackle corruption, he suggested, was to pay its employees a fair, living wage and make promotions based on merit.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)