T he government intends to cut the size of the civil service by almost one half, according to a plan announced by the Inter-Ministerial Technical Commission (ITC).
The ITC was set up by the Council of Ministers to examine and reform the public sector.
Spokesman for the ITC Ho Noun said there was a plan to reduce the overall size of the [non military] civil service from 170,000 to 90,000 employees. Noun is also an adviser to Co-Premier Hun Sen.
Noun said the first stage of the three-step ITC plan, clearly defining the roles and jurisdictions of all government ministries, had already been accepted by the National Assembly on July 19.
She said the second stage of the plan would involve reorganizing ministry structures.
She said the final stage of the plan would involve the ITC surveying all departments to determine their specific employment needs and then allocating a specific staff number to each ministry to achieve the overall 90,000 target.
Noun said the National Assembly would then be responsible for the implementation of the reduction to achieve the target.
She added that the government also aimed, together with local and International NGOs, to provide vocational training programs for the civil servants who are going to be laid off to help them find alternative employment.
"We can not take civil servants out of their jobs without any support from the government," she said:
"If they have no jobs, no food, what could they do? Will they become robbers or work as prostitutes? I think there will be more problems than today if we do not help them get jobs."
"If the public servants volunteer to quit the government we will perhaps give them redundancy payments, but I don't think it will be a big amount, it will depend on how long they have been working and on their basic salaries," she added.
But Noun refused to be drawn on what the actual size of the redundancy payments would be.
The Under Secretary of State for the Civil Service Prak Sok told the Post he had heard about the government plan to reduce the size of the service to 90,000.
He said the service was three times larger than pre-1970 even though the population was only one million bigger.
Sok said that when the SOC regime came to power in 1979 they naturally required a large public sector because all the government and social infrastructure had been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.
Sok said that under the former socialist system between 2,000 to 3,000 university and college graduates were automatically employed each year by the government so ranks naturally swelled as only about 1,000 people left each year.
He added that the over-staffing problem was exacerbated after the elections when Funcinpec and the BLDP wanted to insert an extra 20,000 of their own people in the service.
Sok said recently the Council of Ministers secretly adopted new policies to stop the automatic employment of university and college graduates and to limit the ability of ministries to employ new staff.
But the Under Secretary said the government had to take its time in bringing about the reform.
He said: "I think a reduction [in the number of civil servants] can only be done on a voluntary basis, but I don't think anyone would quit unless they are offered attractive redundancy payments."
"I heard rumors the government was searching for funds to pay civil servants to quit their jobs, and the servants were each demanding $3,000 to quit.
"I don't think we're going to settle [the problem] in such a way. You see our government is too poor to pay people large amounts to quit their jobs."
Oum Nhak, a secondary school teacher at Bak Touk High School, said: "I have been working since 1979 when our government did not have a salary for us. They just gave us a few kilos of rice.
"We worked because we wanted to help Khmer children - not just for the money.
"Many people have been working for many years but they have a low level of education because most of the sophisticated people had been killed.
"And now why does the government forget us," she complained, expressing fear that she may lose her job.
Another civil servant, who requested anonymity, said: "I think if the government wants civil servants to quit they should pay them between $1,000 and $3,000 to help them set up a small business.
"You see, from time to time, it is very difficult to find a job in Phnom Penh."
An employee at the Ministry of Agriculture, who requested anonymity, said at present there were many people employed in the service who had little work to do.
He said most of the incompetent staff in the service had been working for many years making it difficult for the government to sack them.
He added that the government would not sack the newly employed staff because they were generally more highly educated and competent.
He said at present there was a Catch 22 situation in operation.
He said most civil servants, although not satisfied with their jobs, would not voluntarily quit partly because they have heard of government plans to increase civil servants' pay.
But he said the government would be unable to find the money to increase the salaries unless they were able to bring about a reduction in the size of the civil service.