Lawmakers Get $600 Raise

Lawmakers will see an increase in their pay each month, following an agreement signed last week by Prime Minister Hun Sen, officials said.

The action will effectively raise by 50 percent the salaries of all National Assembly members, already among the most privileged civil servants in this war-ravaged country.

The pay increase—being term­ed a bonus necessary so lawmakers can buy automobiles to more frequently visit their constituents

—goes into effect immediately after Friday’s signing of a subdecree by Hun Sen, lawmakers and a senior Finance Ministry official said. It is unclear when lawmakers will begin drawing the additional pay.

Two sources said the sub­decree specified the amount of the monthly increase at $600. Other sources said the decree merely authorized Finance Mini­ster Keat Chhon to release additional funds to Assembly, and he later set the amount at $600 with the Assem­bly’s finance committee.

In either case, Assembly fi­nance committee member Hong Sok Hieng of the Sam Rainsy Party and a senior Finance Min­istry official said lawmakers would each receive this extra $600 every month—on top of their base salary of $1,200 a month—until the end of their term in 2003.

The Finance official explained that the government cannot afford the lump sum needed for each member to purchase a car. He said the national budget must be reassessed and reorganized to allow for the wage increase but said he did not know exactly where the money will come from.

Hun Sen’s action follows a request by 93 National Assembly members that lawmakers be allowed to import automobiles duty-free, as was the practice during the 1993-97 term of the first post-war government. But Hun Sen rejected that proposal, saying it is illegal for the government to allow anyone to import cars duty-free, lawmakers said.

Seventeen Assembly members, including the finance committee, were informed of the bonus ap­proval Monday afternoon. Fi­nance committee chairman Cheam Yeap (CPP) made the an­nounce­­ment at a meeting at the Na­tional As­sembly, attendees said.

“Hun Sen agrees with the re­quest of the 93 MPs to have cars to go to the countryside easily,” Cheam Yeap told the group, according to Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Hong Sok Hieng. “Hun Sen agrees to provide money for the cars.”

Hong Sok Hieng, a member of the finance committee, said the announcement followed negotiations last week between his committee and Finance Minister Keat Chhon. “Originally, the Assem­bly members wanted $1,000 each every month, but Keat Chhon said that was too much,” Hong Sok Hieng said. “So, the government offered $500, and they settled on $600.”

Other members of the finance committee, including deputy chairman Kuoch Ky (Fun), were contacted by telephone Monday evening and refused to confirm or deny if an authorization had been given for the raise. Hun Sen senior adviser Om Yentieng said he did not know about the subdecree.

“Whether the money would be paid every month or every six months, depends on how much money the [Finance] Ministry has,” Hong Sok Hieng said in an interview Monday night at the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters.

The Assembly’s finance committee secretary, lawmaker Ai Khan, would only say that a proposal had been prepared by the committee for a monthly salary increase, but refused to reveal the status of the proposal.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy criticized the measure. He said important laws are upcoming, and the bonus is a pre-emptive move to soften members of parliament who might oppose government policies and defend Western interests in sensitive matters, such as a pending trial of Khmer Rouge leaders.

The move will cost the government nearly $75,000 each month

—“a cheap price by CPP standards to purchase members of parliament,” quipped Sam Rainsy.

Sam Rainsy was instrumental in the first efforts to address parliamentarians need to travel.

In 1994, then-Finance Minister Sam Rainsy approved measures to grant members of the first National Assembly special tax exemption status. The favor, which he emphatically denies ever using, allowed Assembly members to purchase expensive vehicles at low costs.

Defending the proposed salary increase late last week, Princess Norodom Vicheara (Fun) em­phasized that members of the Assembly and Senate receive identical base salaries, but the former must make regular visits to remote districts.

Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute for De­m­o­­cracy, said national funds could be better used. “This is really sad for the country,” he said, sug­gest­ing the $600 was just a flagrant in­centive for lawmakers not to question certain pieces of legislation.

“Once again,” Lao Mong Hay said with dejection, “Hun Sen continues his policy of rewarding those who have and will support the government….And lawmakers are only too willing to accept [his] carrot-on-the-stick policy.”

(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara and Chris Decherd)



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