A draft of the 2009 national budget indicates that the government intends to increase funding for the country’s defense and education sectors.
The National Assembly is set to discuss the draft budget law with non-governmental organizations Thursday before submitting it to the Assembly for approval at an unspecified date in the future.
The 2009 national budget totals $1.8 billion according to a copy of the draft budget law obtained Tuesday. Of that, the government intends to reserve $223 million, or 19 percent, for national defense and internal security.
Most of the allocated money will go toward salary increases for military and police officers and marks a 64 percent increase on such spending compared to the 2008 budget law.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Monday that requests from the Ministry of Defense could push the budget allocation even higher, up to perhaps at least $500 million.
“We will advocate for the government to reduce unnecessary expenses in order to increase the security or defense budget up to $500 million for the ministries of interior and defense,” he said.
Eliminating unnecessary government expenses may include cutting free gasoline that is provided to state employees and slashing the annual subsidy given to Electricite du Cambodge to keep electricity prices down, Cheam Yeap said.
The increased defense budget will be used to reform Cambodia’s defense sector and implement a conscription law, he said.
“We have more senior military officers than soldiers,” Cheam Yeap continued. “We want young soldiers with appropriate weapons to protect Cambodian territory and its sovereignty.”
“We can’t reduce the budget. Even during a time of peace, we must prepare for war,” he said.
The draft budget law also allocates another $399 million—or about 34 percent of the total—to the ministries of Health and Education. This is a 22 percent increase compared to last year.
According to the draft, the Ministry will receive $185 million; the Ministry of Health $125 million; the Ministry of Agriculture $19 million; the Ministry of Rural Development $15 million; the Ministry of Water Resources $7 million; the Ministry of Defense $141 million and the Ministry of Interior $82 million.
If approved, the draft law would also allow the government to take out up to $300 million in loans during 2009. However, the draft stipulates that only Minister of Finance Keat Chhon has the right to sign loan contracts and that he must report back to the National Assembly and Senate within six months of approving any such contract.
The 2009-budget total represents a 29 percent increase compared to projected government spending in 2008, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote in an Oct 30 statement to the National Assembly.
In order to meet budgetary demands, the government will continue to reform customs and tax collections, Hun Sen wrote, and those tax revenues must reach $1.3 billion in 2009, a 31.1 percent increases on projected 2008 tax revenue.
According to a statement from Keat Chhon to the Assembly dated Oct 6, the budget will allow the government “to continue political stability,” “strengthen democracy” and “ensure that there will be sustainable economic growth” leading to 7 percent GDP growth next year.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann was skeptical of the draft budget—in particular the military expenditures—when contacted Tuesday.
“Even if the National Assembly approves [the draft law], the soldiers are facing problems because there are not enough medical and military bases. There is corruption inside the military,” he said. “It is important to increase the military budget in times of crisis, but the budget must be spent correctly,” he added.