More Money for Ministry Won’t Mean More for Teachers

Although the Ministry of Ed­ucation is expecting a 10 percent increase in funds in next year’s budget, none of the money will be allocated to raise teachers’ salaries, an education official said Thursday.

Earlier this year, a report issued by the UN Development Program listed Cambodia as a country in which teacher wages have “progressively eroded,” making it difficult to maintain teacher morale. Brushing aside calls to increase teachers’ sala­ries, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in June that salaries for civil servants cannot be raised without either printing more money or taxing farmers.

But the government appears to have granted the Education Min­istry more than enough money, according to recently released numbers. The 2002 budget expenditure statistics from the Ministry of Finance show that of about $27.3 million earmarked for education and higher education, the ministry spent only about $13 million—47 percent of the money allocated by the budget.

While all of the money earmarked for teacher salaries was spent, nearly 66 percent of the money allocated for “operating costs,” about $4.9 million, went un­used, according to the statistics. Operating costs include seminars, conferences, water and electricity for schools and educational materials, including textbooks, said Ly Sathek, director of the Education Min­istry’s Finance Department.

But Ly Sathek said the statistics from the Finance Ministry were wrong. “We spent more than

90 percent of the operating costs,” he said without elaborating.

Despite spending only about

47 percent of the money allocated for education in 2002, the government raised the Education Min­istry’s total budget 18.5 percent for 2003 to about $80.7 million, the largest budget of any government ministry.

After meeting with Ministry of Finance officials on Aug 18, Ly Sathek said, he is confident that the Education Ministry’s budget will be raised 10 percent in 2004, to about $88.7 million. Since it has been designated a “priority” ministry along with health and rural development, the Education Ministry expects to see another increase of nearly 20 percent in 2005, Ly Sathek said.

Chhoy Aun, director general of the Administration and Finance Department at the Edu­cation Ministry, said even more money may be needed for the education budget. “If we plan to build schools, this budget package is not enough,” he said.

Under current projections, teachers will not receive any of the new money allocated for education, Chhoy Aun added.

“The Ministry of Education spends without showing any transparency,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Inde­pendent Teachers’ Association, who has long advocated raising teacher salaries. Earlier this year the teachers union staged a fruitless strike to demand higher salaries.

The Council of Ministers’ Na­tional Reform Committee is the only government body that can authorize an increase in teacher salaries, but Hun Sen has the final say, said Soy Sokha, economic adviser to Minister of Cabinet Sok An.

“To raise or not raise depends on the feeling of Hun Sen,” Rong Chhun said. “If he says yes, the Council of Ministers has nothing to discuss. The decision is al­ready made.”

 

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