Government officials remained tight-lipped yesterday at the close of a two-day meeting in Preah Sihanouk city, where talks were held concerning terminated salary supplements for civil servants, while officials within the health care field said losing the donor bonuses could endanger critical projects.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon and Secretary of State Aun Porn Moniroth headed the meeting, which began Saturday at the Sokha Beach Resort, according to provincial Governor Sboang Sarath. Neither Mr Chhon nor Mr Porn Moniroth could be reached.
Secretary of State Bun Sam confirmed he was attending the meeting but declined to comment further. Across the government, numerous officials within the Commerce, Finance, Health and Women’s Affairs ministries made themselves scarce or declined to be interviewed.
Although he did not attend the meeting, Mr Sarath said the provincial authorities were told of it in advance.
“They just informed the provincial authorities, but we were not invited to join the meeting,” he said yesterday. NGO workers said they too were not invited to the government conference.
“This was very much a government meeting,” said Sharon Wilkinson, country director for Care International. She said news of the meeting was never officially announced to NGOs and added she looked forward to learning what was discussed during the closed-door meeting.
A sub-decree that came into effect on Jan 1 eliminated the salary supplements paid to civil servants participating in some projects funded by international donors. NGOs and civil servants have objected the move, saying it could jeopardize aid projects.
The sub-decree banned all supplements, including major pay reforms known as Merit-Based Performance Incentives and Priority Mission Groups. These supplements were standardized and funneled from the donors through the government, which also partly funded them.
In a Dec 4 letter to World Bank Country Director Annette Dixon, Mr Chhon explained that the government’s decision to eliminate the bonuses was motivated by issues of salary fairness, concerns about the global economic crisis, and a desire to undertake broader civil service reforms.
Sin Somony, the executive director of medical NGO Medicam, said ??WHEN?? the healthcare sector could be one of the hardest hit by the elimination of the supplements, stating low incomes for government jobs could lead to a civil servant migration to the private sector.
He said although the government maybe correct in canceling government-funded supplements given the current economic outlook, they should rethink removing income boosts from NGOs and international donors.
“They have to find other alternatives, solutions,” he said, citing nationwide treatment sites and laboratories operated by the National Center for HIV/AIDS Dermatology and STDs as an example of organizations that could suffer from the ban.
Chan Theary, executive director for the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia, echoed concerns of civil servants heading to the private sector, adding the timing of the move would likely force NGOs to rethink what projects they could feasibly carry out this year.
She also said the ban could lead to instance of corruption among civil servants who may seek bribes from patients in order to increase pay.
“This is really a threat,” she said. “I would appeal to the government to think of another strategy.”
Government sources said Friday that the government may be considering reversing its decision to cancel the bonuses but NGOs said the ultimate decision remains to be seen.
“We don’t know for sure what direction the government will take,” said Lun Borithy, executive director of Cooperation Committee for Cambodia.
Civil servants contacted yesterday, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, said that if the ban on pay supplements were removed, they might have to find work elsewhere.
“When the money is less, the work won’t be carried out well,” one civil servant said yesterday.