CNRP to Push $500K Per Commune Plan in National Assembly

In what one observer said was simply an act of politicking, the opposition CNRP on Thursday said it would push its campaign pledge of giving $500,000 to every commune in the National Assembly.

“We will request that the Economy and Finance Ministry consider using the national budget to develop communes and villages,” CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith told reporters after a National Assembly permanent committee meeting about the election of senators and a draft trade law. The party would ask its rival, the ruling CPP, to include the plan in the November national budget, Mr. Ponhearith said. “If the ruling party doesn’t agree, it’s their thing,” he said.

Yem Ponhearith.

The CPP’s National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun countered that funding the opposition plan would require that the government “strangle the people.”
“It will be difficult because hundreds of millions of dollars won’t fall from the sky. It’s from the blood and sweat of the people who we take the taxes from,” he said.

“We don’t know where the money will be from, unless we strangle the people,” he added. “Whether we vote for it or not we will decide based on the situation of the nation’s finances.”

Miguel Chanco, lead Asean analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said there were various ways the government could redirect spending to implement the program.

“The amount this year of the CPP government’s controversial ‘reserve/unallocated’ budget line alone should be enough to finance such a pledge,” he said in an email. “A strong case can also be made to transfer funds from Cambodia’s increasingly bloated army in the pursuit of fiscal devolution.”

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun speaks to members of the media at his office at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh in 2014. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

But bringing the proposal to the National Assembly while the CPP was still leading the country was a waste of time, said political analyst Cham Bunthet.
“To ask them to put it forward now is not rational, because the budget needs to be implemented by those who have the majority at the National Assembly,” he said. “I think they are just doing that because it would sound more political before the election in 2018.”

Mr. Chanco said it was possible that a similar policy would be put forward by the CPP anyway, “to score political points ahead of the 2018 general election.”
“It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the CPP pinches a proposal from the CNRP,” he said.

The CNRP’s Mr. Ponhearith said government ministries would be required to merge in order to redirect funds from existing budgets to the $823 million project.
Previously, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann has said that the opposition would cut 20 percent of funds from each ministry to free up money to support the promise.

Mr. Ponhearith added that the CPP was using “incitement to split the nation” through rumors that the opposition planned to deliver the funds to only the estimated 487 of 1,646 communes they won in Sunday’s local elections.

The CPP’s Mr. Vun said the ruling party “never attacks parties” unless attacked first—the idea was simply irrational.  

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