RSA Administered by the Ministry of Public Functions

I am so glad to preside over two events at the same time – (1) to give out diplomas and certificates to 290 senior officials, medium and senior administrative officials for 2014 and (2) to launch the training and retraining courses for 237 students who are senior officials and trainees for 2014. I am pleased that Minister of Public Functions, HE Pich Bunthin, mentioned in his report it is my 17th time to come to this school since 1986. As honorary professor, though I have not had the chance to come teach on a regular basis, I still do come to talk to you at the graduation before you rejoin your line of works. Generally, we meet twice for each intake – one at the course opening and again at the course closing.

I would like to take this opportune moment to express my sincere appreciation to the Royal School of Administration (RSA) for the efforts it made from the beginning and to Deputy Prime Minister HE Sok An for his endeavors for re-organization and leadership of the RSA from the early day of the school. The he Ministry of Interior under the leadership of the late Minister HE Sin Song first managed the school. It has always been our efforts and belief to focus on quality. The RSA has admitted some Buddhist monks to take the courses without having to take entrance exam.

Selection procedure for RSA entrance has not been that simple. The reason for that has been the same since 1950s. Those who studied in this school will become government officials upon completion of their studies. It is therefore important for us to be serious in training and retraining them. In the course of fundamental reforms, the Ministry of Public Functions, formerly a Secretariat under the Council of Ministers, has now become a Ministry in its own right. With this development, the RSA is now under the Ministry of Public Functions, while HE Minister chairs its governing board himself.

Ability to Summarize, Review

I would take this chance to express my sincere appreciation for the efforts made by rectors as well as professors and thanks for leaders who have set aside their times to give lectures in every course and share with students and trainees their knowledge and knowhow. I am sure that HE Pich Bunthin and HE Sum Mab will find persons with remarkable experiences to give you more lectures and exposures. We have so many topics to cover ranging from reforms in all fields to responses to growing social and people’s needs. We also need to keep abreast with regional and world developments to take care of demand for national development.

Since the school covers a wide range of topics and expertise, it is important indeed to invite speakers and leaders with practical knowledge and experiences to give students and trainees a good exposure. We also have here diplomatic officials. I have seen in this report that the RSA has a number of people as their speakers so far – Ambassador of Singapore, former Ambassador of France, IMF Representative, etc. I may urge our officials to think of an urgent matter i.e. anything relating to ASEAN.

It is true that we have own lecturer, HE Sok Siphana, to cover this topic. However, in addition to that, I suggest we invite ASEAN experts and/or those specialized in ASEAN Plus to give their lectures. Those people are working on the issues on day-to-day basis so I am sure they will have more insights and practical experiences and challenges to share with us. Also in the Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC), with HE Keat Chhon as Honorary Chairman, HE Aun Porn Moniroth as Chairman and HE Hang Chuon Naron as Permanent Vice Chairman, we have a good number of experts. Since it is the brain trust institution of the Prime Minister on issue of research and policy development, they would be of great input to the program.

Aside from these, I would suggest that we should invite successful businesspersons in the private sector to share their success stories or to work on chance to visit their production line. I am sure that will enrich the school experiences and bridge between theory and practice. We need to open up to all sorts of knowledge and experiences. Everyone should be of the opinion that there is always something to learn. We must cling to learning more to know more. It would be improper to sleep on the idea that being a diplomat one should not be any other than a person dealing with diplomacy.

In fact, being a diplomat one has to have what I term ability to summarize or review things. In artistic performance, if one lacks the reviewing ability in it, the scene would not reflect every aspect one may wish. The same is true for diplomat. S/he must be able to answer every question take for instance what is the trade volume of the country, import and export. Diplomat cannot refer this matter to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. What is your tourist arrival? What are the shares of agriculture and industry in the country’s economy? The more one knows the better they can perform his/her diplomatic duty. So, one can specialize in a career but must be knowledgeable of all sectors.

Wide-ranging and Fundamental Public Reforms

Though few weeks ago the media made a wide coverage on prioritized tasks that we need to work on, I would think it is still appropriate and relevant to talk about them again. We have a lot of ground to cover in the Rectangular Strategy Phase III of the (Royal Government in the) fifth legislative term of the National Assembly. Facing with so many urgent tasks, we need to exercise wide-ranging and fundamental reforms of public service making it the most effective and efficient ones. We have come up with plan to take short-term, medium-term and long-term steps. I would take this opportunity to share some with you:

(1)   Continue normal functioning of state institutions – legislative, executive and judicial. Now you can see that everything is functioning regularly. Look, during the Meak Bochea Day (Buddhist rite), the Buddhist monks and followers were exercising their rights to celebrate the rite. That is regular. Religion is one of the three mottos of nation, religion and King. It is in this understanding that legislative, executive and judicial powers are functioning regularly. There is no such thing as impasse.

(2)   Maintain political stability and social order. It is important to maintain political stability, security and social order. That would include law enforcement and people’s participation too. The Cambodian people need to live in peace, happiness and not in traffic jam because of so and so actions. It is important for us to defend the people, the country and their peaceful life. Those who cause insecurity must be responsible before the law.

(3)   Maintain macroeconomic stability, control inflation and promote economic growth. This point is equally important. No one can maintain political stability for a long time when the macroeconomic stability is not intact. These points are relative to each other. We must make effort for production in agriculture, industry and service to ensure a generation of 7% growth of the economy. Experts of International Monetary Fund (IMGF) and other international financial institutions have predicted that Cambodia would achieve 7% growth in this year, after we scored 7.3% in 2012 and 7.6% in 2013.

Income Mobilization Vs Relative and Rational Expenses

As of the moment of speaking, fully and healthily grown dry season rice stretches throughout the country. The harvest this year will be exceeding the area planned too. According to the report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, rice cultivation this year has reached over 111%. We need to mobilize revenue and exercise rational expenses to guarantee good macroeconomic stability. A bomb would kill certain number of people, but economic instability would do so for the whole country. There would be no expenses allowed beyond our income capacity. We do not make empty promises.

Expenses must be similar in size to that of income and it would even be better to have some surplus retained. We may have an income for example of 100, but we do not spend it all. We may keep two and spend 98. If we earn 100 but we spend 300, what would happen? Would there be any country in the world that borrows money for salary? No lending institutions would allow such loan. There would be three options. First is borrowing. Would any bank, the Cambodian Central Bank included, lend any money when the status of the borrower is spending 300 while earning only 100?

The second option would be to scale down the number of officials to suit with the ability of state budget. If they were to do so, like two third of them, the rate of joblessness would rise. When promising to give people more jobs, finally job loss is the reality. The third option, you can guess, is to print more money and dump them into the market, like paying salary for example. Printing money is easy but we would not go for that option. We had done the first option in the 1990 decade but we never print money, though we had deficiency of currency in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

While mobilizing income, we also need to inspect expenses. We must be rational on what to pay for and if it is not necessary, let us hold it on to other time. We must exercise saving. We also need to be alert in our way of macroeconomics management. Take for instance, exchange rate has fluctuated in the last few days and is now resting at 3,900 Riel (to a USD) or under 4,000 Riel. We have wished to maintain a rate of 4,050 Riel per USD. When the Riel currency is gaining value, it is also not good for our economy. However, this has illustrated our people’s confidence in the Riel currency though we have allowed various currencies to circulate in the market. We also do not want to see devaluation of the Riel currency as it will diminish purchasing power of the currency and would cause a blow to over half a million workers who receive their salary in USD.

Payday at End of the Month

The National Bank of Cambodia, the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the National Treasury must take efforts to facilitate the payday as is instructed in the circulation. From now on, it is unacceptable to receive the news of one ministry has payday done while another not. We do not have problem with cash flow. We need the administrative process in respected institution to take the responsibility to speed up their paper work and not to point finger at one another when problem arises. Leading institutions in this development would be the Ministry of Public Functions and the Ministry of Economy and Finance. If a minister fails to sign the paper on payroll, s/he has to delegate power to the second in command. In any case, payday must fall on last day of the month. We cannot afford to go on with situation where the pay is meager, it takes even longer to get paid.

It is not hard to sign the paper to get staff their payday right on time. In every ministry, there are numerous secretary and undersecretary of states, and a good number of general directors of departments. The general director of Personnel Department should be good enough to sign the paper. That would be a major point in our efforts relating to livelihood of the government officials and public financial management reforms. Well, the media had covered this story once, but I am talking about it again to make it clear to everyone as to why payday has been late. We have circulated an instruction to related institutions reminding them to guarantee that payday must be on last day of the month.

We will use banking system for payment so that there would not be this problem of so and so is fooling with the amount our officials would receive. If we cash salary through the bank, ghost officials (name in list but there is no real person) would not be able to come cash it. We would not need to spend time to try to find in the list those ghost staff. This is also another step of reform. We have some 180,000 officials, of which over 110,000 are teachers. According to our schedule, teachers will get their pays from bank before other institutions.

Normalization of People’s Socio-Economic Life

That is about that much I wanted to cover on the issue of maintaining macro-economic stability, controlling inflation and driving economic growth. The fourth major task is to:

(4)   Normalize people’s socio-economic life. After the huge flood of 2013, we did a good job to rescue our people. We are now putting efforts and re-investment in rehabilitating damaged infrastructures. Every natural calamity causes serious impacts on people, their ability to produce and infrastructures involved – roads, water canal, etc. We must pay special attention to help people in specifically hit-area by natural disaster. We must keep a close watch on them.

We have so much work to do. The point rests on whether we do it or not. We have to monitor the weather condition and take care of seed supply for them as the rainy season is drawing closer.

(5)   Pay attention to livelihood of the government officials and armed forces as well as workers. As mentioned above, we must make sure they get their pays and of salary increment that our economy can support. As Prime Minister, no one would want staff to go underpaid. I am monitoring this. I would not wait until next year. Similar observation will carry out for workers. We have established a committee of the Royal Government, led by Deputy Prime Minister in Permanency, to oversee and conduct a research on every issue relating to workers. We also are processing a special system for the government officials and the armed forces, in accordance with the country’s financial ability.

In fact, we have now spent up to 45% of the current expense already or about 4.5% or 5% of the GDP, while we set our expense on staff at only 4% of the GDP or 40% of the current expense. While I said salary disbursement to take place at end of the month, I also need feedback information. Sometimes, the Minister reports that he already approved payday but he did not actually know it did not. It is possible that staff can write to newspaper or in facebook or other media means. If it happens to be intentional mistake from his part, the head of the institution would have to bear all responsibility.

(6)   Drive a wide-ranging, fundamental and effective reform in all fields based on existing policies. Well, I have covered many points about reform already. Punctual payday is also a major part of reform process that will help stimulate working capacity of the government officials and armed forces.

Some Advices and Recommendations

Aside from all the above I would remind you that for everything you learn here are just narration of experiences. Returning to your line of duty, you must bear in mind that you are not there to boss the people but to serve them. We are the one that people entrust with the service. There is a saying that goes “keep low to score grain, go high to empty husk.” No one could enjoy love and respect from other while s/he is unfriendly. Either Buddhist monks or human in general would be in similar condition. Please remember that you should not try to be officials with ten legs. What are they? By this, I mean four legs of table, four legs of chair and his/her two legs. Being one, you may not understand the people’s hardship.

In Phnom Penh, and some provinces too, please look at what happen in the market. Many people are not happy with it. Why those who purchase the right to collect tax in the market cause a lot troubles with the people? Could you call them all for a meeting? In some case, people have not sold anything yet early in the morning and they ask for tax on their goods. Maybe the first place to resolve this issue is in Phnom Penh. Sellers and buyers complain altogether. Some tax collectors had even kicked their baskets of goods, while people placed their resentment of those actions on Prime Minister.

Another thing to remind you is that in Khmer there are two words compounding together “taking both wrong and right” or “being responsible” in English. You cannot take everything that is right and leave for others everything that is wrong. We must always monitor our policies, because some may not be responsive to the real situation. Take for instance the problem of fishing lots. We thought it was fine after we had trimmed 56% from the size of the original fishing area (in Tonle Sap Lake). It was not so. For the remaining size, we continued to have problem. To address the issue, while we are now in the time of shallower lake and less population of fish, but with more people, on March 8, 2012, I declared abolishing all fishing lots. You can see now, even the state policy is also subjected to change.

There is one other compounding word in Khmer “sharing comfort and misery.” Officials must remember to take both. They should not take the comfort and leave out to other all the misery. That is why I always say that I will endeavor to live and die together. We cannot entrust our destiny with those who cherish comfort but not misery. Well, HE Pich Bunthin asked me to come and give some advices and recommendations, so these you are what I have to say. What I am talking about is not only for junior officials, but for senior ones too.

One more point I want to mention here is we have to have solidarity and challenge at the same time in the work that we are doing. Noticing anyone of our colleagues is doing something wrong, we must be able to challenge with him. You must be brave to engage in struggle of opinion. You should not subscribe to the pattern of “you are doing everything right.” We must have both solidarity and challenge. That should keep us in good direction and would not derail us into something bad together. We must do good action together for the sake of people and national interests. We must dare to prevent our friends, colleagues, leaders from committing negative actions in the form of sharing solidarity while facing up the challenge.

Today we have administrative assistants who would be succeeding senior officials in the future. In this term, we have appointed some young officials as members of the Royal Government in the rank of Secretary of State, Undersecretary of State, etc. We cannot afford to have all senior or juvenile Royal Government members. We must have both./.