$1.9 Billion 2009 Budget Sent to NA

The 2009 draft budget, in which up to $500 million has been set aside for the military, was sent for approval to the National Assembly’s commission on finance Wednes­day morning, said the commission’s chairman, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap.

The draft budget totals about $1.9 billion, up from $1.25 billion in 2008, with a reserve budget of $224 million for emergencies, Cheam Yeap said by telephone Wednesday.

“I’ve just received it this morning,” he said, adding that as much as $500 million has been allocated to the Defense Ministry, though he said that was the upper limit of a spending bracket. “The defense budget is approximately $135 million to $500 million in 2009…because of the government’s policy to improve the military sector and the existing dispute with Thailand along the border,” he said.

After fighting erupted with Thai troops at the border Oct 15, Prime Minister Hun Sen had said he wanted to increase the country’s military budget. Cheam Yeap indicated that those extra millions for military spending might come from reserve funds set aside for emergencies.

“About $500 million is not enough to improve the RCAF be­cause most of the equipment is old [and] we want soldiers to feel confident for their families when they are at the battlefield,” Cheam Yeap said.

He added the figure was double the 2008 military spending, which he estimated at $250 million. How­ever, on paper, the na­tional budget for 2008 approv­ed by the National Assembly in late 2007 only allocated about $82 million for defense.

On the sidelines of a real estate training course in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said the defense budget would not reach $500 million. “Where did you get this number [$500 million]? It’s a lot!” Keat Chhon told reporters. “It’s not as much as this number,” he said, though he declined to give an alternative figure.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, former chairman of the National As­sembly defense commission, said he had heard the figure of $500 million, but could not confirm it be­cause the draft budget is not yet available to lawmakers outside the finance commission, and the SRP does not hold seats there.

Increased military spending is a good thing because soldiers need to be better trained and equipped, Yim Sovann said, though he ex­pressed worry over corruption and lack of oversight. “The concern is we have to check the items one by one, and we also ask the Ministry of Defense to tell us how much they spend, and they spend for what,” he said. “Otherwise we will lose a lot of money,” he added.

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