The government provides such scant budget information to the public that it ranks in the bottom quartile worldwide on fiscal transparency, according to a recent study by a Washington-based monitor.
“Citizens do not have a comprehensive picture of the [Cambodian] government’s plans for taxing and spending for the upcoming year,” the International Budget Partnership’s “Open Budget Survey 2008” said in its findings, released Dec 31.
Of 85 countries surveyed, only five—-the US, UK, France, New Zealand, and South Africa—-were found to make extensive information publicly available. Five African governments provide no information, while 51 governments produce at least one key document that is not available to the public.
“This encourages inappropriate, wasteful, and corrupt spending,” according to the report. “Lack of information also hinders the ability of public bodies, such as legislatures and national audit offices, to do their jobs effectively.”
The findings reflect data up to Sept 28, 2007, from interviews with legislators, economists, journalists, academics and other specialists. The 2006 openness report did not rank Cambodia.
The 2008 survey does not rank Burma, Laos and Singapore, but among all other Asean nations Indonesia ranks highest and only Vietnam ranks worse than Cambodia.
Cambodian citizens every year are left in the dark on any executive budget proposal, which would contain plans for the coming year along with the costs of the proposed activities, because it “is produced for internal purposes only. It is not made public until it has been adopted by the National Assembly, the Senate and promulgated by the King,” the report states.
The Cambodian government also does not provide a pre-budget statement or a mid-year review, the report says, leaving it “difficult to track spending, revenue collection and borrowing during the year.”
And by not making public the final audit reports on state spending, the government “does not provide any information on whether the audit report’s recommendations are successfully implemented,” according to the report.
The government should publicize these documents, the study recommends, as well as allow citizen participation in the budget process and give a larger budget to the National Audit Authority to fulfill its mandate.
Chea Kim Song, the national budget project officer for the NGO Forum on Cambodia, which assisted with the International Budget Partnership survey, said Monday that requests for finalized audit reports are only ever met with one response: “internal use only.”
National Audit Authority Auditor-General Ut Chhorn declined to comment Monday.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly’s finance commission, said the government would have provided the International Budget Partnership a copy of budget documents if they’d only asked.
They “never requested the budget report from our government,” he said by telephone Monday.
Cambodia is a developing country, Cheam Yeap added, and it will take time to reform the financial system.
“I would like to inform you that we also want praise and for the people to trust the government,” he said.
NGO Forum Deputy Executive Director Ngy San said his organization will this week or next week review the findings with the Finance Ministry, National Audit Authority and National Assembly’s finance commission before an official report launch Feb 17.
“We are going to have a short presentation on the findings of the initiative and compare Cambodia to other countries. Then there will be a response from the government,” he said of the report launch.