1998 Generous to Defense, Cruel to Health

Health and other social sectors have received just over half of the money the government allocated them last year while the military and the Council of Min­isters have already far surpassed their budgets, Ministry of Finance documents show.

In the first 10 months of 1998, defense spent $33.9 million for operational costs—136 percent of what it was allocated for the year.

For the same period of time, non-wage operation costs for the rest of the civil service added up to $55 million, or only 57 percent of what it was allocated for the year.

Salary expenditures for both security and civil administration remained on target for the first 10 months of 1998, the Ministry of Finance’s current budget implementation plan shows.

Those numbers show that the government last year barely managed to cover salaries while slashing operational costs to the bone in most areas—except a few.

The Council of Ministers, head­­ed by influential Minister Sok An, is projected to more than double its 1998 allocation to spend about $16.6 million by year’s end, Finance figures reveal.

Sok An was in Vietnam and could not be reached for comment Monday.

The increase in military spending was caused in part by the collapse of the former Khmer Rouge stronghold Anlong Veng and the reintegration of defecting Khmer Rouge forces, said Def­ense co-Minister Tea Banh.

But the amount allocated in government budgets is never correct, Tea Banh added, saying the department is supposed to spend $5.2 million per month for salaries and food for government soldiers and defectors.

The amount the ministry has been getting has not been en­ough to meet expanding costs, he said.

“The soldiers never have enough for food. The soldiers have to struggle because the ministry understands the government does not have much money,” Tea Banh said.

According to Finance Ministry figures, the Ministry of Health was the hardest-hit by the budget cuts. Health officials said they will be lucky to get 50 percent of the $16.4 million they were promised for this year.

“We are trying to strengthen health,” said Dr Te Kuyseang, director-general in charge of ad­ministration and finance at the Ministry of Health. “We have to build health centers and want to repair district hospitals but [with] the budget [it] is not possible. We work with what we have.”

So far, the Ministry of Health has been able to keep up with salary payments for its provincial workers and to continue to provide food for patients in hospitals, Te Kuyseang said.

Although the Ministry of Health also gets funds from NGOs and other international organizations, the uncertainty of government funding makes it difficult for it to prepare future plans for other projects.

Preparations upset by uncertain government funding in­clude determining fee rates. “If you don’t know how much money you are getting each month, you don’t know how much to charge” for services, said Michael Cur­tis, the World Health Or­ganization’s budgetary adviser to the Ministry of Health. “It makes it difficult to have a discussion with NGOs and set up partnerships between the donor community and the government.”

A proposed budget signed by Finance Minister Keat Chhon for 1999 shows Health getting a nearly 47 percent boost next year from what it is projected to spend this year. Health officials are waiting to see if the money promised to them actually arrives..

“If the political situation will be good, then the new government can manage correctly their duty and perhaps we can get more of our budget,” Te Kuyseang said.

The National Assembly is ex­pected to approve the national budget proposal before the end of this month.

(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)



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