Cambodia's Anti-Corruption Unit has reported issuing repeated letters to government institutions demanding they stamp out the corrupt phenomenon of “ghost workers,” though after months of similar demands, little headway appears to have been made.
According to a statement released on March 23, the ACU continues to receive complaints about both civilian and military employees of the state who either never turn up to the jobs they are being paid for – often because they hold multiple full-time positions at the same time – or who simply don’t exist, with senior officials or colleagues collecting the salaries.
While the ACU reiterated that such practice is “punishable under law,” there are few signs of impending legal action. In August, the ACU announced a major crackdown on ghost workers – which emerged as a key issue during national elections in 2013. In December, the unit vowed to start arresting or sacking the heads of departments found to be harbouring ghost workers, though government ministers were declared exempt from such action.
According to Mom Sitha, director of the Cambodia Independent Anti-Corruption Committee, an NGO, the activity “seriously affects the national economy and budget”.
In 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An told a delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that ghost workers cost the government some $2 million per year.
Yet for San Chey, of non-governmental accountability watchdog ANSA-EAP, the prospects for an effective response in the near future remain slim. “We have seen very little action,” said Chey, who blamed weak administration and management, and entrenched patronage based along party political lines for the ongoing corruption.
In December, the ACU reported that it received 899 complaints during 2014. Public efforts to tackle ghost workers have been ongoing for more than two decades, after an audit found 18,000 on government payrolls in 1994. While that number had halved by 2001, as recently as 2011, some 4,000 ghost workers were discovered within the police and military alone.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, meanwhile, has recently embarked on a crusade to clean the National Assembly of what he says are hundreds of ghost workers. In November, assembly spokesman and CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said the parliament would be trimming its bloated staff rolls.