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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Civil servants locked up and counted

Civil servants locked up and counted

AN employee of the Ministry of Health, Chan Touch, aged 43, makes 40,000 riel

per month - enough, she says, to pay for a sack of charcoal and electricity and

water supplies for her house. With no other job, the rest of her living costs

come from money given by her relatives living abroad.

On Feb 7, she -

like everyone else employed by the government - faced a one-day "head-count"

when they were locked inside their ministries.

The move was aimed at

weeding out "ghost" civil servants whose pay was pocketed by others, or who

secretly held two or more jobs with the government.

Touch had no problem

declaring that she was claiming only one salary when asked to fill in an

official questionnaire, but doubted whether the real culprits would confess

anyway.

As long as government employees were paid hand-to-mouth salaries,

she said, they would always look for alternative ways of making money to survive

and would be hard to identify.

"I don't believe this [head-count] will

have any impact because it happens only one day. It's better to have it every

day," she told the Post while standing behind the fence of her ministry's

premises, waiting for an ice-cream to be passed to her by a vendor.

Phnom

Penh's government ministries took on a picnic atmosphere during lunchtime on the

day of the head-count, as employees spilled out into their grounds to eat their

food behind locked gates.

Many had taken pre-cooked meals to work that

day, and mothers brought along small children - excluded from the

head-count.

The workers filled out the questionnaires, after being told

they would not face legal action if they confessed to claiming more than one

salary, but would be charged if they lied.

The paper questioned civil

servants about their name, date of birth, position and any deatils of secondary

jobs.

The average civil servant salary is about 60,000 riel a month

($23), well below the $100 to $200 estimated monthly minimum basic wage to

support a family.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a staff member said

he spent most of his time at a second, well-paying job with a foreign firm,

which he had no intention of declaring.

He said he had received

permission from his foreign boss to miss work that day, so he could be included

in the head-count, but would then return to resume his $550 a month extra

job.

He said he had declared he had only one job in the questionnaire,

because he wasn't sure whether his company would continue to work in Cambodia,

"otherwise I would quit my job [at the Foreign Ministry] for good."

Other

common examples of secondary jobs involve police working as security guards, and

foreign ministry and information ministry employees working as interpreters.

Many teachers work as tutors after hours, and doctors in government hospitals

frequently work in private clinics.

There are 147,000 salaries being paid

to civil servants, according to Ung Tea Seam, the Ministry of Information's

Under-Secretary of State, but how many are pocketed by "ghosts" remains

unclear.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon suggested in December that as many

as 10,000 bogus civil servants could be nabbed by the head-count.

Ung Tea

Seam said the head-count - the results of which would take some time to produce

- would help determine the real number of government employees and remove

"ghosts".

"The Royal Government hopes that after the verification and

reduction [of employee numbers] in the next few months, the public

administration will be able to move faster forward."

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