The government’s nearly $5 billion 2017 budget, which includes a 35 percent increase in education spending and a 22 percent increase in funding for national defense, received unanimous approval on Wednesday from the National Assembly’s permanent committee.
The budget, officially called the Draft Law on 2017 Financial Management, now goes to the National Assembly’s commission of economy, finance, banking and audit for review, said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who chairs the finance commission.
The CPP-controlled National Assembly will make the final decision on the bill, which is expected before the end of the year.
The budget increases total spending by 15.6 percent to just under $5 billion and maintains foreign concessional borrowing of $960 million for a second year. Concessional loans are typically granted to low-income countries at favorable interest rates and, according to the draft, can only be approved by Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth.
The draft budget calls for a more than 35 percent increase in education spending, to $685 million next year, in an effort to shore up an area that has long been a target for criticism and which makes it the biggest item in the budget. Following closely behind, the draft recommends the Ministry of Public Works and Transport receive $602.8 million, while the allocation for the Ministry of National Defense would increase by about 22 percent, from $379 million to $464.2 million.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, the deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s finance commission, said that he had not yet seen the draft, but hoped the government was ready to break its habit of making ambiguous budget plans. He said the committee would likely meet with relevant officials in the middle of next month to address issues or concerns.
“It’s not easy to say if the government is really serious about directing more budget to the important institutions like education and agriculture,” he said.
“We’d like to have details—is it for building more schools or buying equipment or paying teachers? Until we get details, we cannot say anything,” he added. “In the past we have also had concerns about the budget not being implemented properly.”
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)