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Belt-tightening time, PM says

Prime Minister Hun Sen at the 2nd National Forum on protecting and conserving natural resources on Tuesday in Phnom Penh, where he ordered a scale back on hiring civil servants.
Prime Minister Hun Sen at the 2nd National Forum on protecting and conserving natural resources on Tuesday in Phnom Penh, where he ordered a scale back on hiring civil servants. Facebook

Belt-tightening time, PM says

Prime Minister Hun Sen asked government agencies to cut back on recruiting new workers on Tuesday, citing the creation of a new infantry brigade in Stung Treng province as one reason why the number of new hires must be reduced “to the minimum” – even though the Defence Ministry said last week the brigade was merely a reshuffling of existing ranks.

“To avoid pressure on both our military and civil servants at the same time, I would like to ask the Minister of Economy and Finance [Aun Porn Moniroth] to pay more attention to reducing [civil] staff to the lowest points,” Hun Sen said. “If they ask for 100 people, just give only 10 or 20. We cannot spend so recklessly.”

More than half of the government’s expenditures – or 6 percent of the country’s GDP – is spent on government salaries. According to “macroeconomic principles” cited but not named by the premier, the totals should amount to no more than 4 percent of the budget.

The premier did not address accusations that Cambodia’s civil service has long been plagued by “ghost workers” – bureaucrats, soldiers and teachers who collect salaries but do not go to work.

But Minister of Public Function Pich Bunthin said “ghost workers” are a thing of the past.

“There are no more ghost officials now,” Bunthin said. “We check attendance every day, every morning.”

But opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, who led an investigation into ghost workers in the National Assembly two years ago, expressed scepticism.

“I don’t know if . . . some reforms or systems have been applied by the government to clean up, but I have never heard of any programme,” he said said.

The monthly minimum wage for civil servants has risen from $84 four years ago to $208 today, according to Ministry of Economy and Finance Deputy Director Eng Touch, who added that it is projected to increase to $248 by April of next year.

The government recruited more than 7,600 civil servants, 10,900 contractors and 6,500 freelancers over the past year, largely to replace departing staff, according to Touch.

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