Parliament finally gave the green light on Nov. 24 to a 6,627,494,000 riel ($3 million)
budget to run the National Assembly despite sluggish progress as legislators argued
over almost every clause.
Only one section of the Bill drew near-complete unanimity. MPs voted 85 to three,
with one abstention, to give themselves a pay raise.
Each MP will now receive a 1,430,932 riel ($650) monthly salary and a 2,475,00 riel
($1,125) monthly special allowance for accommodation, transport and other expenses.
A ministerial salary is 70,000 riel (US $30) a month.
Sam Rainsy, Economics and Finance Minister, acknowledged the raise will place an
extra burden on the ministry but said he would be able to cope with it.
Chhieng Vun, chairman of the Assembly's financial and banking commission, defended
the raise by saying the increase was equal to just one percent of the entire state
budget or 530 riels for every Cambodian.
The increase was also in line with recommendations by various groups that higher
government salaries will help reduce corruption.
Civil servants and police earn between 25,000-30,000 riels ($11-13) monthly.
An initial 5,488,354,000 riel ($2.5m) budget for the 95 legislators who hold no position
in the government was supposed to have passed during the morning session on Nov.
Due to the imbalance of wages between the legislators and executive, there was a
demand to expand the allocation of the money to the remaining 25 MPs who hold both
legislative and executive positions.
The debate heated up over the delicate question of whether an MP's allowance should
go up or down.
One MP demonstrated his impatience when he took the floor.
"Today, even without lunch, we have to decide on whatever principle to get things
done because it causes me a lot of headaches when we discuss the same thing without
coming up with a solution," said the MP.
When it became obvious the debate was going nowhere, the MPs called a break and headed
home for lunch.
An earlier proposal by the Assembly's financial and banking commission for a salary
of over 10 billion riel was rejected by the executive body fearing a backlash against
high salaries for law-makers.
But many MPs, including Ahmad Yahya, believe higher salaries are essential.
"How can we carry out our duty if you don't give us enough to eat?" he
asked the Post.
"We must have enough funding, appropriate living conditions, and means of transport
so we can do the job."
Yahya also believes a poorly-paid Assembly would be easier to manipulate.
"Then democracy is dead," he said, adding, "To be law-makers we must
be serious about this otherwise you could just stick up a billboard [saying] National
Assembly and leave it empty."