The government has decided to double the salaries of local government officials at the commune and village level from the beginning of next year, according to a government sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen shortly before the national election.
The sub-decree, released in the Royal Gazette on August 31 but signed July 11, states that commune chiefs will see their salary go from $37.50 to $75 per month, while their deputies will also see an increase in their monthly earnings from $30 to $60.
Further down the pay scale, commune-level councilors and deputy councilors will see their salaries double to $30 and $25 respectively, while village officials will receive $20 per month, from only $10 currently.
“These salary increases will be figured into communes’ yearly budget starting January 2014,” according to the sub-decree.
Though the decision to increase salaries occurred prior to July’s election, the opposition CNRP won ample support in rural areas in part on the back of the opposition’s proposal to increase wages for civil servants and garment workers to $150 per month.
Though local officials welcomed the decision Monday, they also said the raise would not be enough in order for them to live comfortably.
“I think this has been done in admiration for all the work we have done for the people, and though it is still not enough to support my family it is better than what we were paid before,” said Soth Sath, chief of Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune in Phnom Penh.
Chief of Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmei commune Chum Saray agreed that even a 100 percent increase was not enough money to provide for his family, but insisted that he was happy that the government had at least made some effort to increase wages.
“We are happy for the increase, and I think it represents a large amount of money because there are so many officials in Cambodia,” he said.
Just 10 days after the CPP suffered significant losses at the polls, the government announced a 30 percent pay increase for about 90,000 low-paid civil servants, and although the new sub-decree was signed before the election, the timing of both announcements has been interpreted as a significant reaction to electoral losses.
“This is a positive move and a necessary one because commune chiefs and local councilors work very hard at providing services to local people. Yet before, the CPP favored small increases, like 10 to 20 percent, so this is a big decision,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, which promotes the decentralization of power to local government.
“It is good timing in the sense that it is a good idea to immediately make an impact following the election results, but it also reflects the impact of the strong opposition CNRP that the CPP’s incentives have changed,” he said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that although the decision occurred prior to the election, it was a direct response to an issue that the CNRP heavily campaigned on.
“The CPP likes small increases and continuously delays them, so without our strong showing we would not have seen this increase. It was the CNRP’s election platform to increase the salary of civil servants, so it obviously shows that we are doing the right thing and shows the influence a strong opposition can have,” he said.
“Now, I am aware for certain that the CPP plans to increase the salaries of factory workers—another one of our campaign points.”
“We are pleased with the decision but it is still not enough, especially in Phnom Penh where to survive you need at least 1 million riel [about $250] to survive.”