The UN Development Program has recommended that the salaries of Cambodian staff at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia be cut, a court staffer said Thursday on condition of anonymity.
The staffer also said the requested wage reductions are significant, averaging around 45 percent.
Under the terms agreed to by the UN and the government of Cambodia, Cambodian staff at the Khmer Rouge tribunal currently earn around half what their international counterparts do.
The recommendation to cut wage costs comes as the Cambodian side of the court faces an imminent budget crisis. If the court continues to spend money at the current rate, the Cambodian budget will be depleted by early next year, the court staffer added.
The apparent recommendation for salary cuts come on the heels of a UNDP commissioned audit of the Cambodian human resources section of the tribunal, the results of which have not been made public. The UNDP oversees more than $6 million in donor funds to the Cambodian side of the court.
The staffer said that tribunal and UNDP officials would meet this morning to discuss the issue of possible salary reductions.
UNDP spokesman Men Kimseng confirmed Thursday that such a meeting would take place, but he said he was unaware of the issues to be discussed.
He did not respond to requests for further comment about the UNDP’s reported recommendation.
Peter Foster, the UN’s public affairs officer for the tribunal, said he was unaware of such a recommendation by the UNDP.
The tribunal’s Cambodian co-Prosecutor Chea Leang, co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng, Supreme Court Chamber Judge Kong Srim, and Supreme Court Chamber Reserve Judge Mong Monichariya all said that they, too, were unaware of any proposed salary cut.
Kong Srim said he did not want to comment specifically on potential salary reductions because he had no first-hand knowledge of such a proposal, but he added that money is not the most important thing at the court. “We are working for our country’s issues,” he said.
You Bunleng said it would be difficult to accept a salary reduction. “Salaries should not be reduced when we work hard. When we work hard, our salary should be increased,” he said.
He added that he was already troubled by the discrepancy between salary rates for foreign and national staffers.
“Foreigners and Cambodians are sharing the same responsibilities. We sit in the same office,” he said.
Some Cambodian staffers, he said, work in the provinces but “When we come to Phnom Penh to work we spend our own money and we never complain.”
“When Foreigners come to work, they stay for free at five-star hotels, they have insurance, they have housemaids,” he added.
Friction over pay scales at the court previously erupted during a protracted debate over fees the Cambodian Bar Association demanded from international lawyers wishing to participate in the tribunal.
The fight stalled the progress of the court for a month. Only after diplomatic intercession—particularly from Japan—helped convince the bar to lower the fees were tribunal judges able, on June 12, to adopt a crucial set of procedural rules allowing the tribunal to move forward.