International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Japan-IMF Scholarship Program for Asia (JISPA), in a bid to build capacities, funded the further education of several junior Cambodian finance and tax officials in Japan. The move was motivated by Cambodia’s limited human resources specialising in public financial policy, taxation and macro-economic analysis.
This year, at least four junior officials who will graduate with a Master’s degree shared their experience with Khmer Times on how the programme has benefitted them and the nation.
Pen Socheata, deputy chief of bureau in the General Department of Taxation of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, is one of the recipients of the scholarship. For 12 months, she attended the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo where she learned taxation and general public financial policies, which she believes could be adopted in Cambodia.
“The subject I study here [in Japan] is taxation. It is related to what I do in my workplace [in Phnom Penh]. Since I already have a background, it isn’t much of a challenge for me,” said Ms Socheata, who arrived in Tokyo in September last year and will spend one more year to complete her studies. Asked about her experience, she said there is a big gap between Japan’s taxation policy and Cambodia’s. Whereas Japanese taxpayers are well-committed to paying their taxes following the law and regulations, Cambodian taxpayers are gradually gaining an improved understanding of their tax obligations. She noted that the General Department of Taxation (GDT) has been doing well within the last few years. “We cannot say that we don’t have taxpayers. In reality, Cambodia has shown that tax revenues have increased remarkably over the last few years,” Ms Socheata said.
To help her bureau conduct better tax collection, she spends day and night learning new methods from IMF experts and Japanese professors on how to encourage the public to pay tax with goodwill. She added that although the GDT has the authority to force businessmen to pay taxes based on laws and regulations, some businessmen have tried evading paying their taxes. As such, the government is now using more aggressive methods against those who are not willing to cooperate.
“We have a short period to increase tax revenues. The soft engagement was not successful so now we use more aggressive tactics after we reformed. The GDT director-general worked hard to make it easier for business owners by creating a call centre where citizens could consult on tax matters,” said Ms Socheata. Another recipient of the funding is Run Chandaro, deputy section chief of bureau at the Statistics Department for the National Bank of Cambodia. He said the Japanese public financial system is strict and heeds to accountability, transparency and the law. Although the system has worked well in Japan, Mr Chandaro said it may face some challenges when applied in Cambodia.
“I have been thinking about [the significance of] transparency too, but its effective implementation will depend on the working environment and top management in my workplace,” said Mr Chandaro. However, he has strong confidence in applying the lessons and instituting a professional working system in his job in Phnom Penh once he graduates. “I believe I can bring some of the lessons I learned in Japan to my workplace,” he said.
Likewise, Than Yuthyea, a junior economist for the General Department of Policy of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, noted the added value of their education in Japan. He arrived in Tokyo in July last year to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Tokyo, where he studies macro-economic policy.
“I expect that when I go back to Cambodia, I will use the knowledge I’ve gained in economic analysis to improve productivity and efficiency in my workplace”, he said.
He added: “I think that, based on comparison with neighbouring countries, we need to focus more on improving financial literacy among the Cambodian people – including awareness on saving, investing and so on. If we look at current trends, we can see that utilising technology to promote financial literacy is the best way to go. ” Mr Yuthyea will finish his studies by mid-2021, after which he’ll return to his post at the Ministry of Finance where he is expected to share the knowledge he has obtained.
The IMF-funded programme requires participants to share their newly acquired knowledge with colleagues in their home countries to ensure the continuity of learning. “We can learn some lessons from Japan because Japan used to face many challenges. When we complete our studies, we will be able to recommend policies or principles to decision-makers or help ministries by finding better solutions to problems,” said Mr Yuthyea. Sa Kimleng has been studying at the University of Tokyo since July 2018 and is also sponsored by the IMF. He will graduate with a Master’s degree next year by which point he expects to be a good economic analyst.
“To become an economic analyst, we need data. Cambodia is not a big country so it won’t be difficult to deal with any issues,” he said. He realises that Cambodia is lacking in mathematical and scientific skills. For this reason, he wishes to better understand economic concepts. “I believe that when I’ve finished my studies, I will have a greater chance to use what I have learned here,” he said.
Sumi Chikahisa, the director of the Tokyo-based IMF regional office for Asia and the Pacific, said the IMF funded a total of 65 Cambodian officials. So far, 60 have graduated and five are still studying in the two-year macroeconomics programme.
“We are very happy to see that there are some strong candidates from your country. Some of the senior secretaries of the state and parliament members graduated from Japanese universities funded by the IMF,” said Mr Sumi.
He said all participants are selected upon fulfilment of certain criteria set by the IMF, as well as upon recommendation by the Cambodian government. To select participants, the government requires that each person, after fulfilling their studies, return to Cambodia to work developing his or her respective institution