Committee Approves $25 Million Budget for National Assembly

The CPP-controlled Permanent Committee of the new National Assembly has approved a $25-million budget to cover the Assembly’s costs for the coming year, despite the continued absence of nearly half the 123-member body’s elected lawmakers.

The opposition CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect have been boycotting the Assembly since its opening session on September 23 to protest the national election in July, which it claims the CPP stole through fraud. The CNRP considers the present Assembly unconstitutional and is lobbying Cambodia’s donors to suspend ties with the new government until the election dispute is settled.

The 68 lawmakers of the CPP have since formed the Assembly’s 12-member Permanent Committee, which includes the Assembly president, two vice presidents and the chairpersons of the Assem­bly’s nine standing committees.

CPP lawmaker and Permanent Committee member Cheam Yeap said that on Wednesday they approved a 100 billion riel, or roughly $25 million, budget to cover the Assembly’s costs for the coming year, a slight increase over the year before.

“We do it once a year,” he said. “This budget increased 1.6 percent compared to the budget in 2012.”

He said the money covered salaries, travel, clothing and food. Asked how the absence of nearly half the Assembly’s lawmakers might affect the budget, he replied, “It doesn’t matter.”

He added, however, that the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers would have to be sworn in before becoming official lawmakers and so are not yet eligible for their salaries.

Mr. Yeap said the Assembly’s budget would be included in the government’s annual national budget, which he said was in the works and scheduled for a vote by a plenary session of the Assembly on December 1.

Last year, the Assembly approved a 2013 budget of $3.1 billion, approximately $500 million more than the budget for 2012.

CNRP lawmaker-elect Yem Ponhearith criticized Wednesday’s vote by the Permanent Committee for lacking transparency and said it should have tried reducing the Assembly’s spending on itself, particularly on things like transportation and accommodation during trips.

“Expenses for things that are not important should be reduced because our nation owes a lot of debt and is still poor,” he said.

Mr. Yeap and Mr. Ponhearith both said the two parties have made no progress in settling their differences over the election and were no closer to resuming negotiations. The CNRP is preparing to hold a mass demonstration in Phnom Penh against the disputed results on Wednesday.

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