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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Move to trim $1-million-a-month veteran pensions

Move to trim $1-million-a-month veteran pensions

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An disabled soldier being fitted with an artificial limb. Disabled veterans get a pension of about 100,000 riel a month.

T he government spends roughly four billion riel (about $1 million) each month on military pensions to disabled war veterans, retired soldiers and the families of soldiers who died in war, a government official told the Post on March 7. And an as-yet-unidentified proportion of that is being paid to fake names or to people who no longer qualify for assistance.

Som Saran, deputy director of the Veterans' Pension Department at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said the ministry has about 100,000 disabled or dead war veterans and retired soldiers on its books. When their families are included - parents, widows and children - the ministry is responsible for about 600,000 people, costing $1 million a month.

"We have ordered all provincial social affairs offices to identify and eliminate fake names and overage children," Saran said. "The government is losing money improperly every month, so we have to enforce strict measures on this issue."

Speaking on March 3, Minister of Social Affairs Ith Samheng said the ministry had conducted a survey in 2005 and found that about 60,000 dead war veterans' children are over-aged yet still receiving pensions, according to the Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper.

The children of soldiers who died in war are entitled to state support until they turn 18. Samheng said that every year the government wasted roughly 2,000 million riel (about $500,000) on payments to children who were sometimes up to 37 years old.

"I will recommend that Samdech Prime Minister manage this issue," Samheng said during a ceremony marking the appointment of a Kampong Cham director of Social Affairs. "I will be making a serious mistake if I do not do something about the government losing half a million dollars a year."

Samheng also said delayed payment of pensions by the government led some disabled war veterans to sell their pension to a dealer at a heavily discounted rate in exchange for needed cash. The ministry had found that more than 10,000 disabled war veterans have been selling their pensions, amounting to roughly 500 million riel a month, and receiving only 50 to 60 percent of the pension from the dealers, who were mostly officials at the provincial Social Affairs offices.

Kim Hong, director of the pensions and veterans' affairs department, said the ministry provided the parents and widows of dead war veterans 3,200 riel a month each, and 4,000 riel to each child. These pensions were supposed to stop when a widow remarried and when a child turned 18.

Hong said disabled war veterans receive roughly 100,000 riel a month each, depending on their former military rank.

"Disabled war veterans and dead war veterans' families are poor and vulnerable people facing difficult living conditions," Hong said. But he said their numbers were decreasing every year.

Yin Saroeun, director of the Prey Veng Social Affairs Office, said the province disbursed more than 131 million riel a month to 1,064 disabled war veterans and retired soldiers and more than 2,000 dead war veterans' families.

Saroeun said about 400 of those former soldiers sold their unpaid pensions to dealers for ready cash and as a consequence received only 50 percent of their pension.

He said in 2005 the province had eliminated many overage children and remarried widows from the veteran roll, saving roughly 115 million riel, which was returned to the state budget.

"We are still conducting research to see the actual amount of money the government lost every month," Saroeun said. "But we had difficulties traveling to the communities."

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