While the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) released a report earlier this week stating that the ministry collected $90 million in revenue for the state, with the bulk of $80 million collected as tax on property transfers, their one window service arm that aims to cut through the bureaucratic malaise and facilitate cross-ministry collaboration collected $10 million – from which a substantial amount was given back as bonuses to government officials.
“Our one window service is something we use for cadastral services and to help with the issuing of construction permits. It helps the [end user] with the construction process by cutting down bureaucracy,” said MLMUPC spokesman Cheam Sophal Makara.
According to the report, of 778 proposed projects 699 were accepted through this service. And of this $10 million in revenue generated, $3 million was transferred to the state while $7 million was given as “reward money” to civil servants.
“The [majority] of this reward money is for the provincial level public officials and on the commune level,” Makara said, and added “that the reason it was reported is that it goes through the Ministry of Economy and Finance and is transferred down through the banking sector”.
“This provides better transparency rather than bonuses not being recorded. It is for our employees who are working hard to get a better income on the local level,” he said, adding that with higher pay, state employees are encouraged to be more accountable and transparent while also cutting down on allegations of corruption.
Although Makara could not recall when the one window service was first implemented by the MLMUPC, he did say that this scheme will continue to lower the cost of doing business in the future.
Nevertheless, while this strategy of providing bonuses for typically low-paid civil servants has been a reoccurring theme, Ou Virak, a political analyst and head of the Future Forum think tank, said that it may not be the best way to inspire civil servants to boost the government’s income.
“This theory of providing bonuses can be viewed as a way to formalise corruption through transparency, rather than cutting it. It brings the issue to the surface, but is not a strategy in the long run,” he said.
While he was not surprised with the figure of $7 million being redistributed, saying it was actually quite low compared to how much revenue the MLMUPC brought in last year, he believes that it does not incentivise civil servants to abide by the law.
Instead, he advocated higher pay for civil servants across the board, while also employing clear mandates that would bring better public services and also cut government costs.
“Low salaries make it difficult for civil servants, and while higher salaries could help with accountability, a lot more needs to be done to be transparent,” he said, adding that the MLMUPC’s numbers are just what has been officially recorded versus the unofficial collection.
Investment in Cambodia’s construction industry topped $3.3 billion in 2015, a 33 per cent increase from the previous year, according to the MLMUPC.