Assembly Vote on Budget Bill Expected Today

With two days to go before the new year deadline, the National Assembly plans to meet today for discussion and an ex­pected vote on the 1999 budget law, according to an agenda signed by acting National As­sembly Pres­ident Heng Sam­rin.

Former finance minister Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader, has slammed the proposed budget, calling it “unacceptable.”

“I deplore the fact that the national budget is allocated in such a way that priority is given to the armed forces,” Sam Rainsy said Monday in an interview on  CNN.

A version of the budget ap­proved by Finance Minister Keat Chhon shows that the government plans to spend approximately 455 billion riel, or about 30 percent of the proposed 1.5 trillion riel ($395 million) budget, on de­fense and police.

The Finance Ministry points out that the budgeted amount for De­fense and police spending in 1999 is projected to be 6.4 percent lower than what is expected to be spent in 1998.

But Defense will overspend its budget allotment for 1998. The proposed defense budget for 1999 is an 18 percent increase from the figure budgeted in 1998.

Earlier this month, Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An (CPP)  said the proposed defense budget was the “bare minimum.”

Gov­ernment officials have defended the substantial military allocation as necessary to cover an expected increase in military salaries and to absorb costs of settling the defected Khmer Rouge soldiers. The officials point out that hardware and other operational costs are expected to de­crease.

But members of the opposition said the government’s budget is unreliable  and unrealistic.

“In the past few years, defense has always spent more than they are given each year and taken it from somewhere else,” said Son Chhay, a parliamentarian for the Sam Rainsy Party.

This year, the Ministry of Health is expected to receive about half of what it was allocated while Defense projects it will spend about 136 percent of the amount allocated to it in the 1998 budget.

A statement from the Sam Rainsy Party also said the budget’s plans at revenue and tax collection have not been fully ad­dressed.

“The government has not shown how it will actually collect the revenues required by the budget,” the statement said.


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