After Budget Released, Opposition Blasts Process

With the release of the government’s 2015 draft national budget Thursday, the opposition CNRP, whose 55 lawmakers joined the National Assembly in August, called Cambodia’s budget-drafting process “disgusting and unbelievable” on Friday.

The National Assembly will debate the proposed $3.8 billion budget, which was signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on October 24, sometime in the first two weeks of November, according to CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay. The CPP’s majority in parliament means it can pass the budget without the opposition’s support.

Mr. Chhay, who is the CNRP’s chief whip and deputy chair of the National Assembly’s finance and banking commission, said the government has long been opaque in drafting its budgets, and this year was no exception.

“We need details,” he said. “You cannot just give us a number and expect us to understand and be confident that this money is coming into the budget.”

Mr. Chhay called on the government to provide figures for spending over the past nine months in order to determine where money from the 2014 budget has already been spent—as he believes that the numbers in the budget do not reflect actual spending.

“The numbers from the budget might completely change,” he said. “Education could get 18 percent, but it could come down to 14 percent. It is disgusting and unbelievable for any kind of document to fool a parliamentarian.”

The draft 2015 budget calls for $400 million—or about 10.6 percent—more than 2014. Most of the money has been allocated to defense, security and education.

The total proposed national-level budget expenditure for next year is $3.6 billion, which means only $200 million of the total budget will be allocated to provincial, district and commune governments.

The largest portion of the budget—$567 million, or about 15 percent of the total budget—will go to the ministries of defense and interior. The budget does not give specific breakdowns for how any of the total $3.8 billion draft budget would be spent.

If the draft budget is approved, $433 million will go to education in 2015, nearly $100 million more than in last year’s budget.

In a statement dated October 24 that was released with the draft budget, the government says its decisions on where money should be allocated depended on sectors’ “needs and priorities.”

According to the statement, the budget will “focus on strengthening land management, and the improvement of judiciary services via judiciary and court reform.”

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he expects the CPP and CNRP to debate the draft budget in the Assembly sometime next week, adding that the government is willing to listen to any concerns the CNRP may have.

“They have the opportunities to ask for explanation and scrutinize the budget,” Mr. Siphan said. “They have the right to do that.”

About $310 million in the budget has been slated for the Ministry of Health, $16 million for the Ministry of Justice and another $203 million planned for the Ministry of Water Resources.

In addition, the draft budget contains a request to increase the threshold for tax-exempt salaries within the civil service from below $125 to below $200.

The government is also asking the Assembly to approve an $888 million loan it will take out from foreign countries. Mr. Siphan said he did not know where the money would come from, but Mr. Chhay noted Cambodia has made a habit of borrowing heavily from China.

The 2014 budget was approved last year by a National Assembly made up entirely by CPP members after the CNRP boycotted parliament over July 2013’s disputed elections.

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