All government officials will be getting a raise this month and some will see their paycheck more than triple, according to a subdecree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The largest increases will apparently go to high-ranking officials.
Deputy department chiefs will see their salaries boosted to about $175 a month, according to a copy of the subdecree signed Wednesday. Officials familiar with the issue said these positions are currently paid about $50 a month, making this increase about a 250 percent raise.
Other high-ranking public sector employees like university deans will receive similar raises. But lower-ranking civil servants and teachers will see their salaries increase only 50 percent to 100 percent, most making a maximum of about $30 extra.
Chhoy Oun, undersecretary of state for the Council of Ministers and a member of its Economic, Social and Cultural Observation Unit, welcomed the raise Sunday. He said it would boost morale and encourage public sector employees to work harder.
“Government officials are happy,” he said. “They have hope for the future.”
Chea Se, undersecretary of state for education, also welcomed the raises but worried they might not be enough for lower-ranking officials to compensate for rising inflation and the increased price of gasoline and food.
“Officials are happy with the raise,” he said. But, he added: “Keeping down prices is better than raising salaries.”
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, blasted the subdecree, saying it would only increase the already wide gap between civil servants with some power and those with very little.
“The raise is political because most top officials are activists of the ruling party,” he claimed. “It makes most [lower-ranking] officials angry.”
He said he believed that at least 80 percent of civil servants would still have trouble paying for basic goods and services and claimed that his union along with the Free Trade Union would strike in early 2006 to protest the wage gap and rising inflation.
But economist Kang Chandararot, secretary general of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, said that the raises are good for Cambodia and that the gap is not a problem.
“I’m very happy that salaries for public servants are increasing,” he said, adding that boosting wages would likely boost productivity and efficiency, reduce absenteeism and improve morale.
“I think it is OK,” he said of the wage gap. “If someone has more responsibility, they should get more money.”
But he said he still worries that low-ranking civil servants will struggle to get by.
“They still cannot finance proper living standards, so they may look for other opportunities,” he said, explaining that many would continue to take on private sector jobs on the side, drive motorcycle taxis or engage in petty corruption to make ends meet.
Donor countries and the World Bank have long pushed for raising civil servant salaries as a means to combat petty corruption.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, agreed.
“It’s good. It doesn’t matter what the gap is,” she said. But for those on the bottom, she said, it may not be enough.
“It won’t stop petty corruption,” she said. “They still have to support their families.”
She said she believes civil servants living in Phnom Penh need at least $100 a month to live comfortably.