The government has cut more than 6,000 ghost employees from its civil service payroll, but observers say slow progress in state reforms hampers salary increases for existing government workers.
Sum Manith, secretary of state of the Council of Ministers and secretary-general of the Council for Administrative Reform, said 6,091 irregular cases have been found in the national census in civil servants and removed, reducing the total number of state civil servants to a little more than 159,000.
“We have developed a computerized payroll system, so that there will be no more ghosts [getting paid],” Sum Manith said
The census is part of a national effort to restructure the country’s public service sector by determining the necessary number of employees and better defining their duties. The overhaul is also expected to result in significantly increased salaries for civil servants.
Prime Minister Hun Sen early this week announced that the government will finally increase salaries for public servants by 10 percent next year, spending an additional 15 billion riel (about $4 million) from the national coffers’ reserve fund.
But observers say the cut is too small to improve the livelihoods of state employees who now make an average of a little more than $10 per month.
“The 10 percent hike doesn’t make any difference, because the current salary is too, too low,” said Chea Vannath, executive director of the Center for Social Development. “A 0.001 gram dose wouldn’t be enough to fight a disease when 1 gram of anti-biotic is necessary.”
She said Cambodia needs well-trained civil servants who provide better services to the public. Then, she said, those servants should be rewarded financially.
Chan Sophal, a research analyst who worked on an Asian Development Bank study on Good Governance, said the civil service reform should bring sufficient salaries for state employees as well as good governance practice.
“The idea behind reducing civil servants is to increase the salary of the remaining civil servants,” he said. “The government should move forward the administrative reform further.”
Both observers and government officials, however, agree that cutting the number of civil servants alone would not result in a salary hike. They say Cambodia still needs more civil servants, especially in the fields of education, health and agriculture, and note that restructuring state offices and public services is a key to higher salaries.
According to Ngo Hongly, a UN Development Program expert in charge of administrative reform, Cambodia’s civil servants represent only 1.3 percent of the whole population while other countries like China, Singapore and Thailand have more than 2 percent. And wages in Cambodia are much lower than those in the neighboring countries.
“People say Cambodia has too many civil servants, but it’s not true,” Ngo Hongly said, pointing out Cambodia has only one teacher for every 60 students. “What we need to do is to put right people in right places.”
Sum Manith said a computerized payroll system is installed at all central government offices, and provincial offices will have the same system by the middle of next year. In this system, he said only employees who are registered in the state computer database with a photo and finger print can get paid.
“You can no longer put double names in the payroll,” he said, explaining that an employee’s name listed with several different government offices is a common way to be overpaid. In another typical case, children of employees who have died continue to receive the deceased’s monthly salary for years.
Ngo Hongly said the census and computerization will tremendously reduce what the government spends on wages for civil employees.
“We have saved at least $1 million by eliminating ghost civil servants,” he said, adding that the computerization at provincial levels would eliminate another 1,000 state employees next year.
According to the national budget plan approved by the National Assembly Friday, nearly $143 million of the $375 million day-to-day operation costs are planned for wages for both civil and military servants, including top-ranking officials.
Sum Manith said the government plans to develop a strategy to restructure the public service sector by March, a condition set by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Cambodia has also begun demobilizing its huge military, starting first by taking thousands of ghost soldiers off the rolls and phasing out aging or disabled troops