Government Wage Hikes Depend on Cost Cutting

Slashing unnecessary spending by ministries will allow the government to guarantee a monthly minimum wage of $250 for civil servants in time for the 2018 national election, a secretary of state at the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday.

Addressing an audience of lawmakers and international finance experts during a workshop about public finance at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Vongsey Vissoth stressed that raises must be contingent on government-wide administrative reforms.

“We will focus on using such nonstaff expenses to increase salaries and for reforms, to improve the quality of public services,” Mr. Vissoth said.

“Spending has to be on target. If not, I beg you, please stop,” he said, adding that all ministries were guilty of hosting an excessive number of workshops and inviting guests to attend such events from overseas, incurring unnecessary travel and accommodation costs.

Mr. Vissoth also called on government bodies to be more transparent in reporting the costs of everyday supplies—such as bottled water—and expenses during field visits.

Leah April, a senior public-sector management specialist for the World Bank, told the audience that higher wages for civil servants must be accompanied by three main reforms in order to guarantee corresponding improvements in the delivery of services.

“First, at the employee level, to link wage increases to better performance through job performance evaluation. Then, at the organizational level, holding line managers more accountable for the outcomes of programs,” she said. “And then finally, at the societal level, more opportunities for citizens to discuss and evaluate services.”

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, deputy head of the National Assembly’s finance commission, was not at the meeting but said he welcomed calls for raises among civil servants—something the CNRP had campaigned for ahead of the 2013 election.

But he questioned the idea that reducing relatively small unnecessary costs was the best way to come up with the money to do so.

“At least 35 percent of current ministry expenditure costs are being pocketed,” he claimed, citing fake or inflated receipts for goods and trips, and corruption by “high-ranking officials.”

“Everything needs to be on the record. You have to have each ministry clearly list their expenditures so that they can be publicly reviewed,” he said. “The ministries don’t ever publish [financial] reports.”

(Additional reporting by Peter Ford)

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