Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) drives an excavator at a groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of National Road 5 yesterday, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen mockingly declared that opposition pledges to increase the salaries of civil servants marked the arrival of “the season of promises” ahead of next year’s elections, during a speech yesterday.
The premier deemed boosting salaries by reducing tax losses attributed to graft infeasible, because corrupt people were not forthright about their activities, adding that no one would lend the Kingdom money to lift wages – leaving only the option of taxing farmers to finance such a raise.
“Now, the season of promising salary increases has arrived one more time – and it is nothing new,” Hun Sen said, speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday for Chinese-funded works to expand National Road 5 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district.
Foreign lenders only lended money to expand infrastructure and economic growth, not to increase salaries, and the government would not abandon Cambodia’s 14 million people by diverting funds meant for infrastructure to boost salaries, he said.
“I would like to ask if corrupt people have a sign posted on their heads or not,” the premier added, responding to calls by the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party to raise the money for pay increases by cracking down on corruption.
Cambodian teachers, bureaucrats and members of the armed forces can earn as little as $50 per month, but in a recent report by state news agency Agence Kampuchea Presse, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An was quoted as saying civil servant salaries had risen by 540 per cent since 2001.
The CNRP, a merger of the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party that is in the process of unifying, has pledged to lift the salaries of civil servants to at least $150 per month across the board and a minimum of $250 for members of the armed forces and bureaucrats if elected to power in next year’s National Assembly election.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann fired backed at the premier yesterday, arguing the CNRP could root out corruption if elected and raise annual revenue from about 11 or 12 per cent of GDP to between 16 and 20 per cent without taxing farmers.
“Absolutely, [we] will not take tax from people differently from the [rate] the ruling party is taking tax. People will find out, if we act contrary to the promise for the next mandate they will not vote for us anymore,” he said.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said Hun Sen should step down as prime minister if he was unable to curb the corruption of his own party and increase teachers’ salaries.
“It is not different from stealing one basket, [or] two baskets of fish from a monk’s pond, and cooking [only] one stack of bowls to offer to the monks,” Rong Chhun said.
Meanwhile, the premier yesterday also forecasted GDP growth for this year would hit between 6.5 and 7 per cent following an assessment from the International Monetary Fund on Friday suggesting the lower of those two figures was on the mark.
Economic growth in China and India had braced ASEAN nations such as Cambodia against the Global Financial Crisis, he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Meas Sokchea at [email protected]