The CNRP will cut all ministry budgets by 20 percent if it wins next year’s national election to free up funds to provide $500,000 annually to each commune, the party’s spokesman said on Monday, a proposal dismissed by the ruling party as empty election season chatter.
Ministries “cause a lot of corruption and inflate the cost of operations,” CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said on Monday, contending the cuts, paired with an anti-corruption campaign, would encourage more efficient operations.
“It is not the United States or Europe, where they make the budget very carefully,” he added. “In this country, corruption is very big.”
The CNRP’s five-pronged commune election campaign platform calls for each commune to receive the $500,000 to skirt a system the party says is plagued by patronage and red tape.
At an election rally in Phnom Penh on Saturday, party president Kem Sokha suggested that amount might in some communes be boosted to $1 million and said the party would eliminate the Rural Development Ministry if it wins next year’s vote.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Koh Kong province on Monday, Mr. Sokha elaborated, saying that 70 percent of the commune funds would go toward infrastructure projects like schools, wells, and hospitals. Commune chiefs who squandered the financing would be removed, he said.
“Some people say, ‘You don’t have money, you just tell a lie,’” Mr. Sokha said. But he remained vague about how the decentralization effort would be financed.
“On behalf of the CNRP I want to say that…currently the National Assembly has approved $5 billion per year to the royal government,” he said of this year’s national budget, suggesting that the $823 million it would cost to contribute $500,000 apiece to the country’s 1,646 communes could easily be managed.
Pressed on how that budgetary space would be created, Mr. Sovann, the spokesman, said that the 20 percent across-the-board cut for ministry budgets would be accompanied by a rewriting of anti-corruption laws and judicial system reform, which he said would encourage whistleblowers, limit fraud and improve operational efficiency.
“If you inject the political will, within one year it will be better,” he said.
But he declined to elaborate on the specifics of the party’s proposed anti-corruption campaign if it was victorious next year, saying that the CNRP had a right to keep its strategies secret. The opposition understood voters’ expectations for reform, he said.
“If we don’t do it, we commit suicide,” Mr. Sovann said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan conceded that Mr. Sokha could do as he pleased if his party won next year, but seemed to dismiss that possibility outright.
“He could do whatever he wanted—cut 20 percent or cut 100 percent,” he said. “We won’t pay attention to that.”
The ruling party already met the needs of local constituents, he said.
“The CPP already provides [funding] through national budgets to build roads passing through communes or villages—the question is how many millions,” he said.
He questioned local leaders’ capacity to handle an influx of cash without proper training and wrote off Mr. Sokha’s speeches as “demagoguery.”
“I think it’s just talk,” Mr. Eysan said.
Political analyst Cham Bunthet said the CNRP’s plans to trim ministry budgets was feasible. As an advisor to the fledgling Grassroots Democracy Party, Mr. Bunthet said he had recommended the party run on a platform of eliminating all but 11 ministries.
“There’s a lot of stuff that can be merged together,” he said, citing the Planning Ministry and the Rural Development Ministry as one example.
The current government has a “very big head and very small arms and legs,” he said. “If the current government tried to reduce the budget on the head and increase it on the arms and legs, I think the CPP would rule the country forever.”