Speaking to a gathering of the country’s top officials Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen fired the director of the tax department, offered incentives to those who apprehend smugglers, promised to raise civil servant salaries and asserted his authority over the nation’s law enforcement officers.
At a national seminar on promoting good governance—the theme of last week’s Consultative Group meeting at which international donors made pledges of aid—the prime minister accused tax collectors of corruption and admonished them for their paltry contributions to government coffers.
Tax revenue amounts to a mere 7.5 percent of the government’s budget, Hun Sen said, compared to 8.6 percent in neighboring Laos, which, he pointed out, has even less investment than Cambodia
“We cannot collect as we would like due to the current situation,” Hun Sen said, referring to instances of petty corruption among lower government officials.
In an effort to generate greater tax revenues and impose stricter rule in the bureau, Hun Sen announced that he would remove the Finance Ministry’s tax department director, Hong Tha, from his post.
The prime minister then asked Hong Tha to stand up and—in front of the nation’s ministers and governors—told him that he should not be upset about losing his job, because he was a capable worker but his “saliva was not salty,” meaning he lacked sufficient authority.
“He does not have any influence to control the officials below him,” Hun Sen said. He added that Hong Tha would be relocated to a position at the Council of Ministers.
Hong Tha could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy praised the prime minister’s intentions but said that he was targeting the wrong people.
“Hun Sen should condemn the powerful officials who ordered uninfluenced officials to be corrupt,” Sam Rainsy said. “If we want to clean our house, we should clean from the top to the ground floor.”
Aside from the impact of corruption, tax revenues are also undermined by smuggling, Hun Sen said.
In order to motivate provincial authorities, the government will grant them the right to all confiscated goods and fines procured from smugglers, he announced.
But the monetary rewards come with some strings attached. While 30 percent of the spoils can be shared by the officials responsible for the bust, 60 percent must go toward infrastructure projects and 10 percent toward future anti-smuggling efforts.
“This is lost money,” the prime minister said, “so we should give it to the finders.”
Hun Sen also said that he personally would take more drastic measures against smuggling, but to do so he would have to bypass traditional law enforcement hierarchies.
By using his authority to directly mobilize the military and police, the fight against smuggling would see better results, the prime minister said.
“I do not need to consult with the ministers,” he said. “I will be responsible to the National Assembly.”
The national police are traditionally under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry and it was not immediately clear why Hun Sen would choose to sideline his ministers.
Hun Sen rounded out the day by announcing a 15 percent wage increase for all civil servants.
The government will continue to raise salaries on an annual basis, said Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Assembly’s Finance and Banking Commission, and this year, the country’s economic situation allowed for a 15 percent raise.
But considering that most civil servants earn about $30 a month, a 15 percent increase—of approximately $4.50—will not mean much, Sam Rainsy said.
The opposition leader recommended that wages first be raised to an average of about $100 a month, before the government begins instituting gradual changes on an annual basis.