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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pensions shortfall delays retirement of 2,000 soldiers

Pensions shortfall delays retirement of 2,000 soldiers

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Sok Pol, 46, waits for customers in Central Market on Sunday. After five years of service in the Cambodian army, Sok Pol says he received no compension when he lost his right leg from a land mine and must now sell books to support his family.

System straining despite premier's urging: ministry.

A FUNDING shortage has kept more than 2,000 Cambodian soldiers in uniform beyond the retirement age of 60, a Defence Ministry spokesman said Sunday.

The delayed retirements are the latest symptom of a pension system that officials say has long been plagued by a lack of resources and administrative inefficiencies.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said Sunday that there was nothing his ministry could do to address the problem beyond keeping a list of those who were set to retire.

"We have already prepared their names, but we cannot let them retire because we do not have the budget," he said.

His comments came four days after Prime Minister Hun Sen called on officials to expand the social safety net for veterans. Speaking at a Council
of Ministers plenary session, the premier told Finance Minister Keat Chhon to direct more money to the pensions, though he specified neither an amount nor a timeline for the request, according to a statement released after the meeting.

Hong Sreysambath, deputy director of the Veterans Affairs Department at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said the department was making payments for 100,000 disabled and retired soldiers and families of deceased. Including relatives, the payments are currently supporting 600,000 people at a cost of US$12 million per year.

A 2004 article in the Cambodia Development Review, published by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, found that 471,252 people were entitled to government transfers from Veterans Affairs. The total expenditure in 2003, according to the report, was $13.7 million, translating to an average of $29 per beneficiary per year.

According to the Veterans Affairs figures, more pensioners are now vying for less money. The results of a survey released last week by Handicap International suggest this has contributed to an even less efficient system.

The survey, which focused on land mine survivors, pointed to the pension system as "an area of least improvement", citing problems including "delayed payments, bribery and the selling of entitlements in times of need".

Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring for the rights group Adhoc, said Sunday that he approved of the government's plan to expand the safety net for soldiers but stressed the need to cut down on corruption and delays.

"This policy should serve as an incentive for military officers who have devoted their lives to the nation," Ny Chakrya said. "They need assistance when they retire."

Ex-soldiers say system neglects wounded vets
THE shortcomings of the pension system have been felt acutely by Teng Teung, 50, a former soldier who lost his right leg in a land mine explosion in Koh Kong in 1985. The native of Kandal said he was slated to receive 80,000 riels (US$19) from the provincial social affairs office each month, but that the money often came every three months instead.
"I receive the money, but it is very late," he said Sunday in Phnom Penh, where he begs for food. He said the payments were not enough to support him and his nine children.

Sok Pol said he lost a leg and a large part of his left foot from a land mine. He sells books about the Khmer Rouge era in in Central Market to provide for his family and cover the medical expenses for the large hole that remains in his foot. He said the pension system does not compensate even for injuries sustained while in service.

Working alongside him, Pring Chut, 46, said he has received no money for his 11 years of service in the military. He said he lost his left leg to a mine in 1989, and has since turned to selling travel and history books and hand-painted gift cards. A sign he carried Sunday read: "Buy a book to help me [have] a better life. Help me feed my family and send my kids to school."

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