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2,000 ‘ghosts’ on govt payroll

A CENSUS of government workers has revealed around 2,000 “ghost” civil servants – workers who are still on the state’s payroll despite having left their jobs – since data collection began last month, a senior government official said Tuesday.

Ngo Hongly, the secretary general of the Council for Administrative Reform at the Council of Ministers, said the government had audited 21 of the 26 government ministries thus far, with offices at the provincial level to be probed in June.

“Those 2,000 ghost civil servants are costing us about US$2 million each year,” Ngo Hongly said, adding that the ghost civil servants were being paid an average of $84 each per month.

The current census is the third such effort undertaken by the Cambodian government, Ngo Hongly said. A 1995 census uncovered roughly 18,000 ghost civil servants, he said, while a census conducted in 2000 and 2001 revealed about 9,000 ghost civil servants.

“We plan to finish this census by the end of the year, around October or November,” Ngo Hongly said. “We do this to help save the state’s budget.”

According to a statement on the civil servant census released last month by the Council of Ministers, there were 176,829 civil servants on the government payroll as of February. The average salary of these workers was $81 per month.

The civil servant census, the statement said, was enacted following a circular signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 12.

Civil servants must be present at their offices on the day of their inspections, the statement added. They are to receive identification cards after filling out questionnaires and having their personal information “correctly checked and verified through the computer system”.

Nuth Youthy, a senior research officer at the development NGO Pact Cambodia, said both the civil servant census and the March passage of the Anticorruption Law were examples of “substantive action” against corruption. Nuth Youthy recommended that rather than immediately punishing low-level officials who are skimming the salaries of ghost civil servants, the government should first undertake a campaign to raise awareness about the anticorruption effort.

“Not many people have been aware of this law yet, because this law is just passed recently,” Nuth Youthy said. The government could better address the problem of ghost civil servants by requiring ministries and provincial authorities to submit yearly updates of their personnel, he added.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann praised the government’s effort to eliminate ghost civil servants, though he said the SRP had long been aware of the issue.

“It’s very frustrating because the government should have done this a long time ago, and we’ve lost a lot – millions of dollars,” Yim Sovann said. He, too, called for a campaign to raise awareness about corruption among low-ranking civil servants, drawing a distinction between “petty” offences and the more systematic graft that he said is perpetrated at the highest levels of government.

“The high, top-ranking officials in the government – they still enjoy corruption and live with impunity,” he said. “After we clean up from the top, then we can start from the bottom.”

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