Graft Agency Says It Will Prosecute ‘Ghosts’ on State Payrolls

Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) president Om Yentieng held a press conference on Friday to warn leaders of state institutions that they will face corruption charges if found to be paying salaries to people who do not actually work for them.

Mr. Yentieng said the ACU was planning a joint campaign with the Finance Ministry against the use of the so-called “ghost workers,” who draw illicit government salaries, in an effort to rationalize state payrolls.

“We will announce next week [the plan] to arrest the corrupt ghosts, meaning that we will check the places that are the frameworks of the ghosts,” he said. “We will give them three months to solve the problem. After the three months, we will go back.”

Those found to be overseeing the illicit paying out of government funds will be arrested and brought to court, Mr. Yentieng said.

“We will file complaints to the court if any state units still hide and exploit this framework,” he said. Once the books were cleaned, Mr. Yentieng said, the government would be in a better position to meet demands to increase salaries of actual civil servants.

Opposition CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he was curious as to how the ACU would go about identifying those who exist only as “ghosts” on payrolls in its effort to excise them.

“How are they going to do this, and what will they rely on? I don’t believe they can achieve this,” he said.

Mr. Chhay said that the issue of “ghost” employees was nevertheless a serious issue with serious consequences.

“For instance, we have 100,000 soldiers on the payrolls but only 50,000 to 60,000 who are real soldiers,” he said. “When we had a dispute with Thailand, we could not even send enough soldiers to the border and recruited new soldiers in the district.”

Neither Defense Minister Tea Banh nor Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Sucheat could be reached for comment.

However, Transparency International Cambodia executive director Preap Kol said that removing “ghosts” from payrolls would be a simple task if the ACU were committed to it.

“It’s not difficult to do if they want to do it,” he said. “If we do the investigation and audit on the payroll lists of civil servants who are getting paid, we will see the ghost staff who do not show up at their workplaces but are paid.”

Finance Ministry spokesman Ros Phearun said the joint operation with the ACU was crucial to freeing up money for state spending.

“The state has difficulty to make money, and can’t do anything if we offer salaries to ghosts,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)

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