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Government criticised for Khmer New Year bonuses

Khoung Sreng (centre) speaks to the press in June 2017 in Phnom Penh. Sreng was recently criticised for giving City Hall employees $100 and two cases of beer for the Khmer New Year.
Khoung Sreng (centre) speaks to the press in June 2017 in Phnom Penh. Sreng was recently criticised for giving City Hall employees $100 and two cases of beer for the Khmer New Year. Hong Menea

Government criticised for Khmer New Year bonuses

City Hall employees have received two cases of beer and $100 each as a Khmer New Year bonus courtesy of Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Khoung Sreng, and the city’s budget – sparking criticism from health and road safety organisations.

Met Measpheakdey, spokesman for City Hall, confirmed that each employee had been offered the bonus.

“We have been making an effort to motivate our staff who do their job [by providing incentives] apart from their salary,” he said.

“We motivate them once a year during Khmer New Year, but some news outlets criticised our original good idea to take care of staff. I don’t understand.”

An official in the city’s Finance Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the money for the bonuses came from the City Hall budget, but wasn’t able to specify the total amount. The official also said the beer had been sponsored by Cambodia Brewery Limited, which couldn’t be reached for comment.

“I received $100 and two cases of beer,” said Prom Tha, deputy administrative chief at City Hall. “I am happy that our governor is very thoughtful about civil servants. It is coming from the heart of our leader and whether we drink it or not, it’s up to us.”

Tha said district officials were also given one case of beer.

With more than 200 people estimated to die annually on Cambodia’s roads in traffic accidents related to alcohol, the gifts irked organisations pushing road safety. Most of the government’s annual $1.2 million contribution to its road safety action plan is used for safe driving campaigns around major holidays, such as Khmer New Year.

The World Health Organization in Cambodia has also cited harmful consumption of alcohol and tobacco use, among other factors, as increasing risks for noncommunicable diseases.

Heng Sopheab, deputy director at the National Institute for Public Health, said he believed the alcoholic gifts were not appropriate.

“To me, it’s not a good idea to give alcohol as a gift . . . because it leads to many things,” he said. “It’s not good for [people’s] health and it can be linked to driving” under the influence.

Chhea Chhor Daphea, director of the National Centre for Health Promotion, said officials couldn’t ban people from gifting alcohol, but suggested that if they do give beer bonuses they should also convey the message to drink responsibly and to follow the law.

“In many cultures, drinking is part of the entertainment,” Chhor Daphea said. But “not drinking is the best way” to prevent problems.

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