Cash for Siem Reap Market Repair to Come From National Budget

A $300,000 sum to repair Siem Reap City’s fire-ravaged Doeum Kralanh market, originally billed on Monday as a donation from Prime Minister Hun Sen, will actually be taken from the national budget, according to a senior ruling-party official.

Less than three weeks before the July 28 national election, the prime minister has dipped into a discretionary emergency fund—the size and precise purpose of which is not known—to rebuild the market, which was razed by a fire on Friday.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that Mr. Hun Sen, as the head of the government, has the power to allot money to causes such as the repair of a market when needed.

“In the national budget, there’s a reserve budget for times when Cambodia is in hardship, such as fire or flooding,” Mr. Yeap said, declining to say how large the fund was.

On Monday, CPP candidate for Siem Reap province Seang Nam met with vendors—about 200 of whom lost their stalls in the fire, which caused an estimated $1 million worth of damage—and told them that Mr. Hun Sen had agreed to put up $300,000 for the repairs.

Mr. Yeap said that despite the proximity of the act of generosity to election day, it was “normal” for the prime minister to use money in the national budget in this way.

“This market burned down. It needs repairing, and Siem Reap is a tourist center, so we can’t leave it that way,” he said.

However, in December, Siem Reap’s Old Market was destroyed in a fire that killed eight people, and Tep Bunchhay, Siem Reap City governor, said Tuesday that the market remains closed, with government largesse for repairs not forthcoming.

“It hasn’t been rebuilt yet. They’re still solving the problems with compensations,” he said.

Cambodia National Rescue Party candidate Son Chhay said that the government refuses to provide details on how it spends a large chunk of the national budget, leading him to suspect that much of it is used to garner support for the ruling CPP rather than for the benefit of the country.

He cited the audited 2006 budget, in which about 43 percent of government spending was not allocated to specific ministries.

“They don’t mention what this money is for. They just say, ‘Don’t worry, this could be used for construction or for emergencies,’” he said, adding that this meant a huge amount of the budget—which totals $3.1 billion this year—is spent without transparency.

“There’s about $1.5 billion that the prime minister can spend on what he likes,” Mr. Chhay said.

(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis)

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