With 30 days left to go until the polls, the National Election Committee is scrambling to find enough money to complete the process and even to pay its employees next month.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made an “urgent appeal” Wednesday to donor countries to help close the funding gap.
The NEC needs $5 million more in international funding if it is to proceed with current plans for the elections, according to Chhay Kim, chairman of the NEC’s finance committee.
Without the money, the quality of the polls could suffer, he warned Wednesday.
“We could hold the elections but we could not run the elections in the best way,” Chhay Kim said. “If we lack the money, we will recruit not enough staff or reduce the salary, so we might not find as good a staff.”
“It might mean [the elections] would not be good and free and fair.”
The electoral body also is nervously awaiting a transfer of money into its account from the Finance Ministry—funds that are needed to make payroll for July, according to another NEC official, who wouldn’t be named.
“We have five more days for the Finance Ministry to deposit the money,” he said.
The official said Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has personally assured the NEC the money will come, but if it does not, “thousands” of employees are in danger of not being paid. It was unclear how much was at stake.
A Finance official admitted Thursday evening that “there are some problems” transferring the money, but insisted it would arrive on time.
“For the Ministry of Finance, it is hard to give the money sometimes,” the official said, but added, “We will meet the projected amount. There will be no problem.”
Government officials have admitted in recent weeks that tax revenues and aid money are down, but have emphasized that fundamental expenses will be covered. One top government adviser, however, said the government is considering printing more riel to meet expenses, a move analysts say would be disastrous for the economy.
Most of the elections’ projected $27 million cost is being paid for by the international community, with the government adding about $4.5 million for salaries.
But elections officials said Thursday that donor pledges still do not equal the full $27 million.
“The NEC is still short of funds to complete the election process,” the committee’s vice president, Kassie Neou, wrote in a letter to The Cambodia Daily.
The shortfall could affect NEC plans to hire about 70,000 people to run the 11,500-plus polls on July 26, according to Chhay Kim.
The NEC plans to pay five to seven workers at each station $35 per day for five days—the election day plus four days of training, Chhay Kim said. “We would like to train them very carefully.”
He said the UN Development Program is assisting the electoral body in appealing to donors for more funds. The UNDP administers a trust fund through which many donor nations contribute.
The UN released a statement on Wednesday quoting Secretary-General Kofi Annan as saying Cambodia needs $3 million more for the elections, according to The Associated Press. The statement said Annan is making “an urgent appeal to donor countries to close this funding gap as soon as possible, since elections are only a month away.”
Phnom Penh UNDP official Keith Hargreaves confirmed that the agency is working to help find more funding, but said $3 million is probably the most the NEC can hope for, not the full $5 million Chhay Kim said is needed.
Using Chhay Kim’s figures, reducing poll workers’ rate from $35 to $20 a day would save about $5 million. A typical civil servant makes about $20 a month.