Budget Does Not Reflect Spending

Social ministries spent much less money last year than they were allocated in the 2003 budget law, while the Finance and Interior ministries far outspent their earmarked amounts, accord­ing to provisional 2003 budget implementation figures from the Finance Ministry ob­tained Thursday.

None of the four so-called “priority” ministries spent all of the money allocated to them in the budget law, according to the provisional figures. The Ministry of Social Affairs spent 96 percent, the Ministry of Education spent 79 percent, the Ministry of Health spent about 59 percent and the Ministry of Rural Development spent about 54 percent, the figures show.

Other institutions, however, spent more than they were allocated in the budget law. The Council of Ministers spent 109 percent, the Interior Ministry spent 167 percent, the Finance Ministry spent 199 percent and the National Election Committee spent a whopping 826 percent, according to the report dated Feb 2.

Ngy Tayi, undersecretary of state at the Finance Ministry, said he has been directed not to comment on the figures to the press. Kong Vibol, secretary of state at the ministry, could not be reached for comment.

Chea Vuthna, director of the economic analysis and forecasting department at the Finance Mini­stry, which helped prepare the budget implementation figures, said the final 2003 budget implementation figures would be ready in a few months.

Though Chea Vuth­­na’s name and signature are on the provisional figures report, he declined additional comment.

Leng Sochea, a spokesman for the NEC, which far overspent its allocated budget, said Thurs­day he did not know why the committee’s earmarked amount in the budget law was so small.

“The whole expenses were less than we expected,” he said. The 2003 budget law allocated the NEC about $800,000; it spent more than $6.6 million, according to the provisional budget implementation figures.

Ly Thuch, Minister of Rural Development, said Thursday the Finance Ministry should release the money allocated to his ministry on time or conditions in the countryside will further deteriorate.

“If we don’t have that cash, we don’t have money to maintain roads—and they are already broken,” Ly Thuch said.

“I understand my ministry is a priority to reduce poverty, but as you know, our country is poor, so we don’t have enough cash,” he added.

In 2003, the Ministry of Rural Development had trouble getting the money the budget law said it was supposed to get. Though the ministry was allocated more money in 2003 than in 2002, figures show it actually received less money last year than it did in 2002.

During a speech in October to a regional “poverty reduction” conference, Prime Minister Hun Sen called development of the rural economy “the key” priority of the government.

“The Royal Government has initiated the linkages of the [National Poverty Reduction Strategy] with the national budget,” Hun Sen said in the speech.

The preliminary figures reveal a disconnect between the government’s rhetoric on budget priorities and its actual expenditures, said opposition lawmakers who accused the CPP of using the country’s money to boost powerful ministries.

“It seems that the government always concentrates more on increasing power for themselves than developing the country,” said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay. “The ministries that allow them to keep power get easy access to money.”

The government pulled in less revenue and spent more money in 2003 than it did in 2002, according to the report. Tourism in­come also dropped by about

$19 million last year from 2002. Revenue from visa fees and customs duties also dropped, the report states.

Defense spending, however, rose about $1.25 million last year compared to 2002, figures show.

When the 2002 budget implementation figures were released last year, opposition lawmaker Keo Remy alleged that ministry officials needed to pay bribes to the Finance Ministry to receive the money allocated to them in the budget. Finance Ministry officials denied the charges.

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