Council of Ministers Approves 2004 Budget Talks Gov’t Talks Negotiations Talks Outcome

The Council of Ministers on Friday approved a budget for 2004 of about $768 million, drawing complaints from opposition lawmakers that the move was illegal.

“The Ministry of Finance and the government will continue to work as usual,” Finance Minister Keat Chhon told reporters after the meeting. “But because the National Assembly does not work, we cannot send them the draft.”

The proposed 2004 budget shows an estimated increase of $61 mil­lion from the 2003 budget.

Opposition lawmakers said that only a new government could propose a budget, claiming the CPP was trying to trick the public into thinking it could continue to run the country without forming a new government.

“What they have done is abso­lutely illegal,” said Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian. “If they dare to use the new budget without gaining approval from the National Assembly, they will not just violate the budget law, but also the Constitution.”

A budget needs to be approved by Dec 31. Because an Assembly has yet to form, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the Finance Ministry on Friday to prepare a sub-decree authorizing the government to use a sum of money equal to one-twelfth of the 2003 budget for its work in Jan­uary, Keat Chhon said.

Under the 2003 Budget Law, if no government is formed and if approved by a sub-decree, the existing government can use one-twelfth of the 2003 budget on a month-to-month basis, officials said.

Ngy Tayi, Finance Ministry undersecretary of state, defended the new budget Friday.

“The government still continues its work because we can’t let a million people die,” he said. “When a new National Assembly is formed, than they can start work right away” on passing the budget.

Keat Chhon also said the government would continue accepting aid money from abroad. He said he plans to travel to Rome in December to sign a $15 million loan from the Italian government.

On Thursday, China pledged about $30 million in aid, including a $6.1 million grant earmarked for general use by the government.


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