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Gov’t rolls to grow by 5,000

A teacher explains exercises during a class at a Phnom Penh school
A teacher explains exercises during a class at a Phnom Penh school last year. The government is aiming to recruit over 3,000 civil servants to the Ministry of Education as part of a new framework. Heng Chivoan

Gov’t rolls to grow by 5,000

Thousands of people will be recruited into the civil service this year, according to a government notice released this week, drawing criticism from observers who say dealing with low salaries and a plethora of so-called “ghost workers” should be the top priority.

In a letter of notification sent to the heads of ministries and other government institutions on Tuesday, and released to the public on Wednesday evening, Minister of Public Function Pich Bunthin says the government has, “in principle”, given the green light for 5,001 new civil servants to be employed.

The majority of the new hires will be recruited by the Ministry of Education, which is asking for 3,015 employees. The next biggest intake will be at the Ministry of Health, with 433, followed by the Ministry of Interior, with 400.

The notification says the intake matches the number of civil servants who left their jobs last year.

“The ministries listed that some civil servants resigned, some died and some retired [in 2014]. They reported it to us and asked for replacements,” Bunthin said yesterday.

He added that the number of civil servants who lost their jobs included ghost workers, who were taking home a wage while rarely – if ever – showing up for work.

Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron said that his ministry required such a large number of new recruits because of increases in student numbers, and civil servants retiring or being transferred to other ministries.

But, he said, because it would take two years to train the new staff, the ministry wanted to hold further discussions before agreeing on a final number.

While government officials maintained yesterday that the recruitment drive does not signify an increase in the overall number of civil servants, others were not convinced.

Kao Poeun, president of the Cambodian Independent Civil Servant Association, said he did not believe that more than 5,000 civil servants had left their jobs last year, and claimed existing numbers in employment were already far higher than necessary.

“I believe that the numbers of civil servants in all the ministries is too much for [the amount of] work,” he said. “Some [ministries] might make up that they need to have more so that they can request a bigger budget [that they will profit from through] corruption”.

According to observers, some ghost workers give their wages directly to their bosses in return for holding on to the prestige of a government job.

“Previously, recruitments have been for young officers, and while they are qualified, they go to work somewhere else [to subsidise the civil service’s low wages]. They just want to get their names in the ministries,” Poeun said.

He added that the best solution for the Kingdom’s civil service was “to increase the salaries of existing officers and strengthen their capacity, rather than getting more officers with no benefits”.

San Chey, of non-governmental accountability watchdog ANSA-EAP, agreed that increasing wages for existing workers would be more beneficial than bringing in thousands of new staff.

“If we have more civil servants, I think that it will be a waste of the expenditure,” Chey said, adding that he hoped the government was truly “filling spaces rather than making the numbers bigger”.

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay said it is crucial that the government deals with the widespread problem of ghost workers, and ensures that new recruits show up for work.

“It’s quite clear there are a large number of ghost workers on the government payroll,” he said. They “ought to use some kind of hi-tech technology to work out who are workers and who are not”.

Om Yentieng, head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, which in August pledged a crackdown on ghost workers, could not be reached yesterday.

The opposition’s Chhay said that beyond teachers, who he claimed are less likely to be ghost workers, no new recruitments should be made until the existing problems are stamped out.

“Why employ more people when there are so many already in place? We need quality workers, not quantity workers.”

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