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Civil servants’ bosses told to halt skimming

Civil servants including police officers in a supervisory role who cut into their subordinates’ salaries will face consequences including criminal charges, Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced last week.

In an order obtained by the Post yesterday, Kheng urged civil servants who handle payroll to immediately report to the Ministry of Interior anytime their employer takes money from employees’ pay – including in cases where the money is ostensibly going toward charity or humanitarian organisations.

The ministry will implement anything from administrative discipline to charging a defendant in court, Kheng’s decree states.

“Whatever the purpose for which the funds would be used … [civil servants] need to absolutely stop cutting salaries, whether the cut is small or large,” Kheng says in his announcement.

“[All involved police departments] in municipalities and provinces have to implement this order with the spirit of responsibility and effectiveness.”

But greasing palms – sometimes using the salaries of lower-ranking employees to do so – has become so endemic in Cambodia’s public sector, that Kao Poeun, president of the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association, doubts the order can be implemented.

Bribery and turning blind eyes to corruption – or actively participating in it – have been blighting public servants for years, Poeun said.

In this environment, higher-ups have abused their employees’ salaries often.

“There is no concrete number, but bosses cutting into an individual civil servant's or police official's pay cheque has been widely reported,” Poeun said.

Under Cambodia’s labour law, management may only dip into an employee’s salary for agreed-upon union dues, or if the employee must dock pay for equipment the employee broke or lost – in that case, only up to 20 per cent of the worker’s total pay cheque can be taken out – said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center.

Civil servants are not covered by the labour law, Tola said.

But in principle, he added, wages should not be deducted from any employee’s salary unless there is a prior agreement.

A provincial police chief Tola knows told him he and officers had their pay docked for equipment like body armour, Tola said.

He believes Kheng’s order came in response to a rash of recent complaints from civil servants about bosses taking exorbitant percentages of their salaries.

“The police, the military police and so on are not happy right now,” Tola said yesterday.

Sharing Poeun’s perspective, Tola said he does not think the order will be ultimately enforced.

“I don’t have any optimism or any hope that the government ruled by the [Cambodian People’s Party] will do that,” Tola said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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