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Ministers meet over pay cuts

Ministers meet over pay cuts

NGOs say they were left in the dark on decision to end civil servant supplements

SENIOR government ministers met on Thursday to discuss for the first time a recent decision to terminate salary supplement programmes for civil servants, as NGOs and development partners continue to await consultations on a move they say may significantly impact social services in the Kingdom.

In accordance with a sub-decree that went into effect on January 1, pay incentives and salary supplements funded by both donors and the government are no longer permitted. Under such programmes, development organisations had been bolstering the often meagre incomes of civil servants in a range of sectors.

“We had a meeting this morning, and there were many issues that we needed to consider and collect ideas about before we submit information to Prime Minister Hun Sen to hear his opinion,” Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said.

The meeting was held at the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

On December 17, the UN, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the British and Australian ambassadors wrote to Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon, requesting a meeting to discuss “how to mitigate the potential adverse impacts” of the supplements decision. Following Thursday’s meeting, government officials were tight-lipped about what sort of engagement may occur over the next few weeks.

“It was an internal consultation of the government, and I cannot speak out much about the issue. Prime Minister Hun Sen will examine the results of the meeting,” said Prak Sokhon, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers who presided over the gathering. “We may have another meeting in order to find a way for coordination with our development partners and NGOs.”

Prak Sokhon said the purpose of the meeting was “to review what the impact would be from the termination of the incentive programmes”.

Many in the development community say they have been caught off-guard by the supplement termination, which was announced by Keat Chhon in a letter to the World Bank less than one month before it went into effect.

The UN’s Office of the Resident Coordinator said Thursday that it had received no response to its request for a meeting with the government, but called discussion about the supplement termination “essential in order to clarify the overall and specific sector impacts and agree on a process for moving forward”.

Chan Theary, executive director of the Reproductive and Child Health Alliance, said dialogue is urgently needed “to overcome this ad hoc sub-decree”.

The announcement, she said, came “too soon for us to be prepared about what will be the next step. There was not enough information”.

Im Samrithy, executive director of the NGO Education Partnership, called for greater transparency from the government regarding the supplement issue.

“The information should be released to the NGOs and to the development partners,” he said, calling such disclosure necessary so that “NGOs can comment and NGOs can be ready for the implementation”.

Development partners and NGOs say the termination of salary supplements could lead to a rise in absenteeism and possible corruption among government workers as they are forced to seek income from other sources to make up for their losses. Khieu Kanharith said Thursday, however, that supplement programmes were not sustainable in the long term.

“If we do not cut the supplement programmes, there will be a big burden on the government in the future,” he said, adding: “Donors will not help us forever, and when they cut [funding] we will encounter many problems.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ROBBIE COREY-BOULET

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