In contrast to the cautious approach of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP),
the country's other two main parties have gone to the electorate with a bag full
of costly promises, and few concerns over their ability to fund them.
Funcinpec and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) maintain that cracking down on
corruption, tax avoidance and smuggling will comfortably fund their proposed multimillion
dollar post-election spending sprees.
Rainsy has promised to increase the monthly salary of every government worker to
$100. Figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that there are 292,500
civil servants, which makes the SRP's proposal a potential vote-winner.
The IMF states that the current average government salary is $28 a month. To increase
that by $72 would cost the Treasury $253 million annually, adding more than 30 percent
to the national budget.
It is little wonder that Prime Minister Hun Sen has poured scorn on the proposal
and warned civil servants that they will never see the dollars promised. But it has
not deterred Funcinpec, which has gone one step further.
"[Rainsy] says $100, we say at least $100," says Serey Kosal, a senior
advisor to Prince Ranariddh.
The CPP's election policy document runs to 59 points, but gives few details and no
costings for any of them. On the subject of civil servant wages, the document simply
states that salaries will be raised to "appropriate levels".
The CPP's Khieu Kanharith says that pay rises will follow economic development.
"A $100 dollar salary is unrealistic," Kanharith says. "Sam Rainsy
can say this because he won't be in the government. It's better not to specify. We
don't make a promise that we can't fulfill."
Both the SRP and Funcinpec say they will target rampant corruption as the source
of their revenue collection. Kanharith acknowledges corruption exists, but maintains
that "it is not the problem". He is suspicious of the large sums cited
by the SRP and Funcinpec.
"How do they know this? They must be involved in it to know this. The important
thing is sustainable development. We have created this [and] without inflation,"
Rainsy dismisses skepticism about his proposals, and says it will prove easy to find
the money. His figures suggest there are currently 340,000 state employees.
"I will not print money and I will not increase tax," he says. "Number
one: Once we cut down on the number of ghost soldiers and ghost civil servants, etcetera,
we should be left with just 250,000 state employees. Then there are the 'zombies',
people who really exist but only turn up to work to collect their pay. We only want
to pay people who work."
Once that first step is completed, he says, cracking down on smuggling alone should
fund the wage increases.
"This is very plausible. Smuggling is the largest item," he says. "When
I was Minister of Finance [in the early 1990s], Cambodia had 18,000 cars and we imported
140,000 tons of petroleum. Now we have 80,000 cars but, according to the government,
we only import 83,000 tons."
And Rainsy maintains he can find "countless other sources of revenue" such
as combating the smuggling of cigarettes and building materials.
Other costly promises from the opposition are $104 million extra for education and
a further $70 million for health. The full effect of the budget increase is planned
The opposition leader says that raising public sector wages is key, because it will
break the vicious cycle of petty corruption. The IMF is in sync with Rainsy in describing
the low wages as "a serious impediment to development", but it portrays
wage increases as an uphill battle.
In its most recent country report, which was issued in March, the IMF notes it has
taken the best part of eight years to increase salaries by just eight dollars a month.
The government has previously made public its plan to increase the average wage to
$52 by 2006, but the IMF is cautious about even this modest proposal.
"Implementing this program ... will pose major macro-economic challenges to
the government as it is dependent on meeting ambitious targets for fiscal revenue,"
its report notes.
Rainsy is more optimistic. If he wins, he expects he will be able to increase government
"As finance minister I increased customs revenue by three times in three months,
and I increased salaries by an average of 30 percent. Now I want to do the same thing
but on a larger scale," he says.
He has produced a range of estimates of potential revenue sources, saying official
state revenue should be five times more than is currently raised. Sources he claims
are not being collected are: Revenue from rubber plantations, which should generate
$10 million annually; income from fishing; the entry fees to Angkor Wat; port fees
at Sihanoukville; the rental tax which is not being enforced; and cash from telecommunications
and air traffic.
He maintains that this money, plus a wealth tax on the Kingdom's richest citizens,
will comfortably pay for his party's promises.
Many of the SRP's ideas are also being touted by Funcinpec as post-election cash
cows. Smuggling, rubber plantations and Sihanoukville Port are also in the sights
of the royalists.
"For example, we have made a study of the new scanner at the Port of Sihanoukville,"
says Serey Kosal. "It should be generating an income of $300,000 per month."
Kosal says the royalists will use the extra money to modernize the country's decrepit
military. Despite donor unease with the number of personnel in the military-which
takes around 10 percent of the national budget-he says it is a priority that Cambodia
keep pace with its neighbors.
"When the Prince was First Prime Minister he had 30 planes," Kosal says.
"Now we have nothing, only the helicopter of Samdech Hun Sen."
Funcinpec has pledged it will not borrow money in order to implement its plans. It
too believes a corruption crackdown will deliver the necessary revenue for a program
of nation building.
"Prime Minister Hun Sen has had the job for five years, but he cannot do it,"
says Kosal. "Why? Because he does not have a vision. Prince Ranariddh has big
plans. He wants to revisit all the things he wanted to do when he was First Prime
Minister but couldn't.
"For example, he will restore irrigation to the whole country, restore hydrology
to make cheaper electricity for here and for export. More foreign investment is also
Kosal says reform will take place in three areas currently under Funcinpec's control:
Education, justice, and health. Asked why there has been so little reform in those
ministries over the past five years, he says they were unable to act.
"You must understand that our ministers don't have power and don't have the
right to make decisions. The only people who can make decisions are all in [Senior
Minister] Sok An's hands," he says. "We want to implement our plans but
we can't without power."
Kosal promises a widespread crackdown after the election on corrupt officials, no
matter which party they belong to.
"At this time we know about corruption, but we do not have power and can't speak
out," says Kosal. "We need to keep quiet and live according to our opportunity,
but after 2003 you will see those corrupt officials affected, even if they are from