Proving that the business of the state must go on, lawmakers met during yesterday’s day of mourning and began to debate the country’s almost $2.4 billion 2011 budget.
“This [budget] is very important and the assembly cannot delay it…. If the assembly delays, the King could not sign it on time,” said SRP spokesman Yim Sovann. The assembly was to convene again today to continue the debate.
CPP lawmakers had predicted that the budget would sail through the chamber but the session was interrupted as members from all parties took the opportunity to convey their sympathies for the victims of the Koh Pich tragedy.
“I, along with all other government officials and all the Cambodian people, feel deeply sorry for the families of the victims,” said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap.
One of the main items discussed during yesterday’s session was the government’s plan to increase its foreign borrowing next year.
The budget includes a provision allowing the government to borrow up to 400 million Special Drawing Rights, up from about 200 million last year. Officials have said the increase will be used as a reserve fund in case of disasters or emergencies. SDR, or special drawing rights, are a unit of currency used by the International Monetary Fund currently worth $1.54 each.
These loans would start accruing interest after 10 years and would have to be paid back in 30, according to Mr Yeap.
The discussion split the chamber along party lines with CPP lawmakers almost unanimously calling for the budget to pass as it stands, while SRP members insisted on further discussion.
“We did not agree to take this law to debate because this is not a fair distribution of the budget,” said the SRP’s Mr Sovann.
Approximately $501 million will be allocated to the social affairs sector next year. About $297 million will be spent on defense and security in 2011, while the economic sector–incorporating the Ministries of Finance and Commerce, among others–has been allocated a budget of almost $115 million.