In the dusty, gloomy corridor of the Ministry of Environment’s Environmental Impact Assessment Department, almost all office doors were padlocked shut at 11:15 am on Thursday. Only Touch Bunthan, a bureau chief of administration with an office at the end of the corridor, appeared to be at work.
The absent department officials, he said, were on “a field trip” to Kirirom National Park.
According to Touch Bunthan, 500 employees are employed at the ministry compound near Independence Monument. But only 50 to 60 percent of them actually come to work because the pay is so low, he said. Some of those who don’t come to work still get paid, while others have their salaries taken by their bosses, he added.
While thousands of staff are employed at government ministries, the number of people actually attending work on an average working day can be low, civil servants said Thursday.
“It seems people are not interested in doing anything in the office. Are they at home?” opposition lawmaker Son Chhay asked on Thursday. “What is happening in this country?”
The Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations and Inspections employs 289 staff at its relatively small, quiet compound near the Olympic Stadium, said Chan Chakriya, deputy director of the ministry’s Administration and Personnel Department.
On Thursday afternoon, however, the atmosphere was sleepy.
“Some of the staff work on [the details of] the pay roll and on the attendance of [other] staff,” Chan Chakriya explained, adding that some of his colleagues come to work in the morning and study in the afternoon, and vice versa.
The Ministry of Culture, a yellow, bunker-like building with long, well-lit corridors, has five secretaries of state and seven under secretaries of state, said Srey Suon, director of the ministry’s Personnel Department, on Thursday.
Though the ministry, which employs about 3,000 people across the country, works on researching temples other than Angkor Wat, and on promoting music, dance and traditional theater, there is a policy to let some staff skip work to do other odd jobs.
“The ministry works with compromise and forgiveness for some staff who don’t get much money,” Srey Suon said.
Better paid staff members, however, are called in to be disciplined if they don’t turn up to work, though they don’t receive punishment, he said.
Cambodia’s over-staffed but under-attended ministries are generating red tape that is helping deter investors, critics claim.
“The government is always creating new jobs” in ministries, Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Thursday.
But padding government entities with unneeded staff only helps maintain the patronage system of the ruling elite, but does little to serve the people, he added.
Son Chhay said the government only needs about half the ministries it currently maintains.
The three separate ministries of Water Resources, Agriculture and Rural Development are overlapping in their mandates and could be merged into one, he said.
The Ministry of Land Management, Construction, and Urbanization and the Secretariat of Civil Aviation could be scrapped, he added.
Private firms operate more efficiently than government ministries because they pay higher wages and are strictly regulated, said Nhean Bunrith, who holds the title “deputy bureau chief of documents and information technology” at the Ministry of Education.
Sitting behind a desk with piles of paper but little to do on Thursday, Nhean Bunrith said: “I want to work with a company or an NGO, but my qualifications aren’t high enough so I have to work here.”