Battle of the bulge ahead in bloated new Cambodian government

A deal cut by Cambodia’s feuding parties to form a government after a year-long power struggle will create a bloated political elite that threatens a new wave of infighting, analysts say.

A slew of new top-ranking posts and a ministry were announced under a power-sharing agreement struck Friday to end a stalemate between long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen and royalist leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Analysts say the deal is likely to result in dozens of underused and overpaid ministers who could exploit the lucrative fringe benefits of Cambodia’s corrupt political system, which the country can scarcely afford.

"This was the political way out needed to satisfy the internal pressure from the different parties… That was their aim, to solve the problem, but there will be negative impacts for sure," one senior diplomat told AFP.

The crisis began when Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won national polls last July but failed to secure a two-thirds majority required under the constitution to govern alone.

Barring late hitches, Friday’s deal revives a decade-old and often uneasy partnership between the CPP and the royalist FUNCINPEC party.

It gives the CPP 60 percent of postings, including the crucial ministries of foreign affairs and economy.

FUNCINPEC, which fared dismally in the polls, has been handed the remainder, mostly marginal portfolios but will share the ministries of defense and interior with the CPP.

The overall number of positions at the level of minister, deputy minister or secretary of state has soared to 168, more than double their previous number.

With undersecretaries of state added to the equation, the new administration will have around 300 posts, creating an army of underemployed policymakers.

"They will not be assigned work — they’ll just be addressing and opening seminars, cutting ribbons, welcoming foreign guests. And that will create problems, with them competing to get assignments from their bosses," said the diplomat.

"What’s needed are more Indians, not chiefs."

Activists are also perturbed by the high price tag that will accompany the bulging bureaucracy as Cambodia recovers from decades of brutal conflict.

Ministers typically earn about 300 dollars per month and deputies 250 dollars, but their incomes are supplemented an array of perks — some acceptable, others not.

"It’s a big concern for us, how to manage society well with this high number of high-ranking government officials," prominent rights activist Thun Saray told AFP. "It’s very unfair for the poor in society."

Kek Galabru, president of rights advocacy group Licadho, said the increased cost and lack of accountability of a new government were concerns.

"It’s a burden for the country and I don’t know if more positions will help. There will be more people, more paperwork to do, more people to monitor. And who will monitor all these people — the prime minister?"

Speculation continues over whether FUNCINPEC will hand any of its posts to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), with which it formed a surprise alliance after the polls.

Hun Sen and Ranariddh had previously agreed royalists could hand some of their positions to the SRP, headed by the outspoken Sam Rainsy, a sworn enemy of the premier.

Rainsy has said he would not take a position but the former FUNCINPEC finance minister has insisted his party will play a role, which would further complicate governing.