A royal decree released yesterday has assigned 38 paid advisers to deputy ruling party president Say Chhum to assist him in his new role as Senate president.
The same document, signed by King Norodom Sihamoni on Monday, also served to disband the large team of advisers who served Chhum’s late predecessor Chea Sim – a group that reportedly numbered more than 300.
One familiar face will remain, however, with Sim’s chief of cabinet, Mam Sarin, retaining that role for Chhum.
The new group will draw salaries based on their ranks as named in the decree, Minister of Public Function Pich Bunthin said yesterday.
A senior minister like Sarin, for instance, could earn $602 a month, according to a sub-decree on pay rates released in October, which Bunthin confirmed was still current.
Former Chea Sim chief bodyguard and business tycoon, Lieutenant General Yim Leang – the son of Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhay Ly – is set to receive about $516 per month, with a rank equal to minister.
Those on par with a secretary of state will take home $432; while under secretaries of state will get $346.
Independent political commentator Ou Virak yesterday slammed the system, saying it wasted millions of dollars a year for no reason.
“They just go back to their own businesses,” he said of the advisers.
“Even if they were effective advisers, the Senate is not doing anything anyway, the whole scheme is a waste of money.”
Speaking yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said many advisers declined a salary altogether and simply volunteered their time.
Siphan said he was unsure whether Chhay’s group would be paid or not and referred questions to Sarin, who said he was “busy in a meeting”.
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said advisers to senators and parliamentarians weren’t usually interested in the role’s salary, which he claimed was often pocketed by superiors.
“They just want the title of adviser so they can scare the authorities when they are doing legal or illegal business,” Chhay said.
The CNRP’s own Kem Sokha came under fire in September when it was announced a coterie of 21 officials would be granted to him in his role as National Assembly vice president, including 14 advisers and seven assistants.
Bunthin, for his part, rejected the notion that the positions represented a waste of money, saying there was enough cash in the national budget to cover the salaries.
He added that advisers’ duties were assigned by their respective bosses.
An independent political commentator, who declined to be named, yesterday said half of Chhum’s advisers were his “old guard long-time collaborators”, while the others appeared part of the emerging generation, likely slated for important future roles.
He added: “As far as I know, advisers to Chea Sim numbered about 350 . . . so I think 38 for Say Chhum is really quite reasonable.”