The National Assembly on Friday approved the $3.8 billion budget for 2015, despite opposition lawmakers, who have slammed the draft budget for its lack of details, abstaining from the vote.
In the morning, the ruling CPP voted to bring the draft bill to a debate, with 65 of its parliamentarians voting in favor while 47 CNRP lawmakers abstained from the vote. By the end of the daylong debate, just 19 opposition members remained in the assembly chamber when the ruling party voted to approve the budget at 6 p.m.
The draft 2015 budget, which included $400 million more in spending than in 2014 and allocated the most money to defense, security and education, did not provide specific breakdowns for how the funds will be spent.
CNRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition, said his party abstained from the vote because the draft budget contained “a lot of loopholes” in terms of revenue and spending.
“Usually to approve an important draft law for development of the nation, at least a few months are required in order to conduct a thorough study into revenues that are collected by the state and collected from all means of sources through taxation, as well as the spending by sectors [to ensure] the right way and effectiveness,” he said during the Assembly session.
Contacted by telephone, Mr. Sovann claimed that an additional $1 billion in revenue could be generated if the government collected taxes more effectively.
“Those areas where we could generate more revenue are from casino operations, and especially tax on gasoline, which could be worth $200 to $300 million annually,” he said.
Mr. Sovann said the opposition also wanted to see increased spending on education, health and social services, as well as a boost to civil servants’ pay to at least 2 million riel, or about $500, a month.
“We’re so sorry that the draft law also does not explain clearly the state’s inventory, which gives the chance for some people to do swapping, selling and leasing of state public properties without transparency and accountability,” he added.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, head of the National Assembly’s economics and finance commission, defended the draft 2015 budget during the debate.
Mr. Yeap said it was important in terms of public finance policy to “ensure the continued accomplishment of high and sustainable economic growth, as well as to ensure the stability of the economy and finances in the context of low inflation and the stability of the exchange rate.”
The largest portion of the budget—$567 million, or about 15 percent of total spending—will go to the ministries of defense and interior. The approved budget allocation of $433 million for education in 2015 is nearly $100 million more than in last year’s budget.
Only $200 million of the total budget will be allocated to provincial, district and commune governments.