Lor Thoy is a 40-year-old lecturer at Boeung Trabek High School. But he’s more than that. He’s also a tuk-tuk driver, ferrying passengers around Kandal province on his off time.
He does this to supplement his monthly government salary of $100. His wife is a home seamstress, earning an additional $50 per month in the province’s Kien Svay district.
“We cannot survive with this salary,” Lor Thoy said in a recent interview. “I have to drive the tuk-tuk and my wife has another job to do. If not, we can’t manage our expenses.”
He is not alone. Poor salaries and an increased cost of living have forced many government employees to moonlight at other jobs, leading to long hours and long days of taxi-driving or fruit-selling just to make ends meet.
Chea Kosal holds a high position at the Ministry of Education. He earns about $105 per month. His wife, who is also a public servant, brings in another $100 each month. Those combined incomes are barely half enough to care for their two children, school fees, food, electricity and water, he said.
“Our salaries cannot make up the balance with our expenses,” he said, forcing him to work an extra three hours each day in private tutoring, which adds $300 per month. He is “exhausted,” he said, and has been unable to save money for healthcare when he gets older.
“Our country is developing, and then the salary for government employees is low,” he said. His policemen friends all have to work as guards for banks or private companies, he said.
“If we can’t find other resources, we can’t control our expenses,” Chea Kosal said.
Lor Thoy and Chea Kosal are among Cambodia’s 180,300 civil servants. About 60 percent of government employees earn between $65 and $100 per month, officially, for working 40 hours a week, according to government figures.
The UN expects inflation to jump to 6 percent this year, a bump of 2 percent from the year before. And local economists say that inflation tends to hit state employees the hardest, exacerbating corruption.
However, Pich Bunthin, secretary of state for the State Secretariat of Public Function, said government employees do take extra work, but to improve their quality of life.
“The state is not the cow producing milk,” he said. “State servants, as well as ordinary citizens, have to take care of the cow so that she can produce more milk.”
Indeed, salaries are not as low as they once were. Public servants have seen an increase of 20 percent since 2008. Critics say this is not enough to keep up with the rising price of food, fuel and other goods.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Teacher’s Association, said the government “did not pay attention” to solutions proposed by his organization and had not come up with another solution.
“This is a chronic problem,” said Chan Sophal, head of the Cambodia Economic Association, one that has hurt the efficiency of public services. “They must spend extra time doing their extra job instead of completing their tasks.”
With reasonable salaries, public servants would be able to properly perform their functions and “live in an honorable condition,” he said. “It’s a crucial factor for the future of Cambodia.”