Prime Minister Hun Sen ripped into the opposition during his first public speech of the year yesterday, ridiculing the party’s 2013 election promises to raise civil servant wages and increase pensions as a surefire way to bring down their government if they were in power.
Speaking yesterday at the opening of a provincial hall in Tbong Khmum province, Hun Sen sought to ratchet up pressure on the Cambodia National Rescue Party, while also announcing a wage boost for civil servants and the armed services.
The premier urged seniors and low-paid civil servants to demand cash from the opposition, which last election promised them a $10 pension and a $250 minimum wage, respectively.
“Please, go and get the money,” he told the crowd, adding that “at least one million soldiers, police officials and all civil servants [should] please ask for the money.
“The CNRP would collapse after six months, because everyone older than 60 years old would gather and demand $10. There are about 2 million people over 60 in Cambodia,” he said.
Explaining his government’s own stance on government salaries, Hun Sun said: “We have a policy of increasing wages by going up in steps.”
“Wages just can’t lift off like a helicopter, but I want to increase them up to $1,000 [for civil servants],” he said.
He accused the CNRP of just trying to get votes, saying he wanted to make people’s lives better but lacked the funds for big salary increases.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith said he didn’t understand the premier’s point, given that as the CPP was in control, the opposition wasn’t in a position to set wages or pay pensions.
“If the CNRP ran the government and had assumed the premiership, then people older than 65 years would get $10 per month,” he said.
Cambodia currently has no universal pension scheme, with only former government workers and factory workers getting retirement fund payments.
Low wages among civil servants is also a major challenge for the country, with the World Bank citing it as a significant cause of corruption.
It’s unclear whether Hun Sen’s announcement of government wage increases, to take effect this month, was referring to regular annual increases, usually about 20 per cent, or an additional boost.
In August, Hun Sen told graduates at the University of BELTEI that the health and education ministries were earmarked for salary increases in the mid-year budget.
He said the Education Ministry was first in line and would see staggered wage increases between September last year to April this year.
Pay for low-paid non-teaching staff, such as office workers, will be eventually bumped to about $138 in April, up from about $106 in September last year.
Ny Chakrya, director of human rights and legal aid at Adhoc, said ordering people to demand money from the CNRP was irresponsible.
“If the government cannot make enough revenue to support people, it should explain this, he said.
Political analyst Chea Vannath’s said the prime minister appeared to be returning to political attack mode despite telling the opposition he wanted to cooperate.
“Earlier [Hun Sen] announced to the nation that now we have a new culture, a culture of dialogue and productivity rather than verbal attacks and sarcasm,” she said. “Things like this appear to be against what he is preaching.”
She urged him to have a more “productive, open-minded” approach, saying he could have discussed, rather than attacked, the CNRP’s $10 pension proposal.
“Even if they don’t have the budget, it’s an idea to discuss later on to see if there is any possibility to start in the future, which is something that’s going to benefit the CPP .”
“I would rather the PM play the role model for a long-lasting culture of dialogue.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING SHAUN TURTON