After opposition lawmakers renewed criticism of the government for rampant corruption and Cambodia’s poor economic performance, the National Assembly on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the first chapter of the proposed 2003 budget.
Parliament voted 78-13 to approve the expenditures and revenue section, authorizing a total budget of more than $700 million. All 13 dissenting votes came from the Sam Rainsy Party, which attacked the government for ongoing corruption and blamed the CPP-Funcinpec coalition for turning their backs on a country mired in poverty.
Under the chapter approved Wednesday, Cambodia will have to repay more than 25 billion riel (about $6.25 million) in debt to unidentified institutions. According to World Bank statistics, Cambodia’s foreign debt is worth nearly three-fourths of its Gross Domestic Product.
Some Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party officials said the government had been neglectful in collecting debts and is hiding revenue. Funcinpec lawmaker Nan Sy accused the government of corruption and demanded an anti-graft law be sped up for Assembly approval. Speaking to Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who was addressing the body, Nan Sy put much of the responsibility on Keat Chhon’s ministry.
“Your Excellency, nothing has changed about the government’s promises, but your seat—from an old to a new microphone. You have to cure the right place: Where it hurts,” Nan Sy said.
Funcinpec has been stung by criticism that it panders to its senior coalition partner, but Prince Norodom Ranariddh has demanded that his royalists follow the party line. Nan Sy, however, has been particularly open in criticizing the government.
During Wednesday’s session, members also resurrected allegations of an $800 million slush fund in a Singapore bank. The allegations, which the Singaporeans deny, even appeared in CPP-dominated newspapers, leading some observers to suggest there is a deep rift in the ruling party.
Debate is expected to continue on the budget today.