Government Prepares to Pay Employees Via Bank Accounts

The Ministry of Finance on Wednesday signed agreements with three firms—Acleda Bank, Canadia Bank and Wing Cambodia—to pay all of the government’s tens of thousands of civil servants and military personnel via bank accounts starting next year.

In a statement issued at the signing ceremony, the ministry called the five-year deals “another milestone in the reform program on public financial management of the government” that will ensure that only bona fide civil servants draw salaries, reduce the risks of handling cash and make payment more timely.

It says some 8,000 civil servants already get paid through bank accounts and that the government will start rolling out the expanded service early next year, beginning with the ministries of education, health, economy and interior at both the national and sub-national levels.

Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed the idea in September during a televised, six-hour speech to his new Cabinet that was full of reform plans.

In Channy, the president and CEO of Acleda Bank, said Thursday that the service would first and foremost make public employees’ pay more readily available.

“The banks work efficiently, timely, on a 24-hour basis so the employee can go to the ATM any time, so this is most important,” he said.

Mr. Channy said the three banks had not yet been told how many accounts they would each be handling. But with the most ATMs and branch offices of any bank in the country, he was hopeful that his firm would get the biggest share.

Mr. Channy said he was hopeful that the accounts would also cut down on the high number of “ghost” employees on the government’s payroll.

“They have to come in person with ID, and we have machines to scan signatures and thumbprints, so I think no person can come as a ghost,” he said.

Kao Poeun, president of the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association, however, doubted the accounts alone would reduce the ghost employees or the deeply engrained tradition of employees passing on a cut of their salaries to their superiors.

“This measure will not help at all until the government creates a list showing the real roles and duties of each civil servant and tracks their job performance,” he said. As for kickbacks, he added, “When they get their salaries, they will still give some of their salaries to their bosses.”

Neither, he said, would it stop some employees from paying those kickbacks to hold on to government jobs they do not actually perform.

The deal with the banks comes amid the creation of an inter-ministerial working group charged with overhauling the way the government pays its civil servants, whose low salaries are widely blamed for much of the country’s pervasive corruption and poor public service.

The group was due to be formed by Thursday.

Em Sarum, a secretary of state at the newly formed Ministry of Public Function, said fellow secretary of state at the ministry Yok Bunnar had been selected to lead the group.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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