Gasoline expenses for government officials will be cut by 30 percent and the funds redirected to aid an agriculture sector thirsty for rain, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in a speech on Saturday.
Speaking to farmers in Pursat province’s Bakan district, the prime minister said that gasoline allowances for most ministries and civil servants would be slashed, excluding officials involved in military and irrigation operations.
“Now I am appealing to save gasoline for agriculture, so I appeal to the state’s institutions-national level and provincial and municipal level-to save,” he said.
“Military officials and institutions who serve as canal-digging and water-pumping units will be allowed to continue, but their administrative officials will also be reduced. We do not reduce [gasoline] for military police and police in the operations of territorial and social order protection,” he said.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun estimated yesterday that about 70,000 hectares of agricultural land in eight provinces-Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pursat, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Kandal, Takeo and Kampot-have been hit by drought in recent months. However, rainfall in recent days has already helped to bring about 25,000 hectares of effected land back into productive use.
“This reduction in free gasoline is for the restoration of farmers facing drought,” Mr Sarun said of the prime minister’s announcement. He explained that the money saved from the government’s gas bill would go towards irrigation projects and equipment in drought-afflicted areas.
The Agriculture Ministry has an annual budget of 1.5 billion riel, or about $375,000, to buy gasoline for its staff, the minister said. “I think that my ministry will not be affected by this decision,” he added.
In an interview in April, Ministry of Finance Secretary-General Hang Chuon Naron said that the government’s free gasoline allowances are mainly provided for civil servants required to travel on missions. However, he added that officials “who really work hard” often receive further credit for free gasoline.
“Some people who work very hard, they need incentives to go to work,” Mr Chuon Naron said. “But usually it’s part of a mission.”
Although he could not be reached for comment on Sunday, Mr Chuon Naron said in May that the Finance Ministry was looking to adjust the state gasoline budget in response to a drop in international fuel prices.
At the time, Finance Ministry budget department Director Sok Saravuth estimated that the ministry could slash about $12.5 million from the annual government budget, savings which he said would go to the Samdech Decho Hun Sen Foundation, which he described as a government institution dedicated to vocational training.
Mr Saravuth said Sunday that he was traveling and unable to comment on adjustments to the gasoline budget. Neither Mr Saravuth nor Mr Chuon Naron has been able to provide the government’s total budget for gasoline allowances for civil servants in past interviews.