Government officials said Monday that the delayed formation of the government will not hamper the process of passing next year’s budget bill, now being negotiated inside the Finance Ministry.
“If the government is not
formed, the old Council of Ministers could legally decide to do whatever it wants to solve the problem,” said Kao Bun Hong, a legal adviser to the Cabinet. “Farmers have no rain for their farms, so we have to solve this problem.”
Touch Leng, the director of the budget department for Finance, said his ministry has not yet finished negotiating with other ministries on a 1999 budget proposal.
He also said it is too early to tell when the Finance Ministry will finish the proposal and send it to the Council of Ministers for approval. The budget bill then goes to the National Assembly for debate and final passage into law. Nady Tan, secretary-general for the Council of Ministers, said if problems persist in forming a government, the decision would fall to the two prime ministers on whether to go ahead with the budget bill process. He also pointed out that the National Assembly has not seated itself.
While the budget bill legally must be passed before the beginning of the 1999 fiscal year, which begins Jan 1, officials said it should be passed by Nov 1 to allow for preparation of funds.
The 1998 budget bill passed the National Assembly Dec 31 after three days of debate. It was $419 million, or 1.9 trillion riel.
Bit Seanglim, an economic adviser to the government, said the budget would most likely expand over last year’s due to an expanding economy. “I think because the economy is moving, is expanding, usually the budget is bigger each year because the revenue base is better or the government is diversifying the tax base,” he said. “Hopefully the cost of doing business will be lower and the economy will get bigger.”
Last year’s economy grew about 2 percent over 1996, Finance officials have said.
A foreign legal expert, however, said the budget may not increase much, as the government may concentrate on approving only expenditures it sees as absolutely necessary. Should the government not form in time to review the Finance Ministry proposal, it could revise the budget when it is finally seated.
“Whatever they spend money on has to be seen as absolutely necessary and they have to justify this to the new Council of Ministers,” the legal expert said.