Cambodia’s 2014 national budget was significantly less transparent than the 2012 budget, according to the latest report by the International Budget Partnership, released on Tuesday by NGO Forum in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia was also ranked the seventh worst country for budget transparency out of the 102 nations surveyed by the independent organization, tied with Venezuela.
According to the report, based on last year’s budget, Cambodia’s greatest weaknesses are a lack of communication with the public during the preliminary consultation phase and a failure to produce detailed data on exactly where funds are directed after approval.
Cambodia scored only eight points out of a possible 100 for transparency and public participation, compared to 15 points in the last survey, which looked at the 2012 budget.
Points are determined by judging the accessibility of documents explaining the budget and by monitoring its drafting and implementation—including initial proposals, enactment, progress reviews and independent audits.
Compared to an average global score of 25, the report says, “Cambodia’s score of 8 out of 100 indicates that the provision of opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process is weak.”
Of particular concern, the report adds, is the inadequacy of the Finance Ministry’s “budget in brief,” which is intended to educate the public about the budget. “The budget in brief is not…comprehensive or widely disseminated to the public,” it says.
Son Chhay, an opposition lawmaker and deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s banking and finance commission, said the survey’s findings made sense.
“Cambodian citizens are the owners of the country—they pay taxes…so of course we want to enable their access,” he said, singling out the Defense Ministry as an example of the obscurity of government finances.
“At the Ministry of Defense, we know they have a lot of ghost soldiers, that money is going into a bucket,” he said, referring to the practice of adding fake names to the payroll so that others can claim their salaries.
Lay Sokkheang, deputy director of the Finance Ministry’s budget department, blamed poor internal communication for tardy budget reports and said their lack of clarity did not mean his department was not thorough.
“We can do our jobs, but we are not so capable of writing reports,” he said. “Without producing reports for publishing, we were not able to get a good score.”
As for public input, Mr. Sokkheang said, his department this year invited property developers and university students studying finance to raise concerns and questions about the budget.
NGO Forum project director Kim Nay said consultations with educated and engaged citizens were not enough.
“A half day of consultation is not enough,” he said. “They have to very clearly provide [education] at the commune level…and be speaking to people directly.”
Javier Castillo-Alvarez, the European Union’s head of macroeconomic cooperation in Cambodia, who attended the report’s launch, also cast doubt on Mr. Sokkheang’s claims that his department was not capable of publishing reports in a timely manner.
“If the government can produce these reports [for us] in two weeks, why can’t they publish them?” he said.