Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday hit out at administrators of state bodies, including the National Assembly, who he claimed have abused their operational independence from the government to engage in irregular spending.
At a public finance reform meeting at Phnom Penh’s Sokha Hotel, Mr. Hun Sen said that, as the government leaves institutions to work independently for reasons of good governance, they operate with little financial oversight.
“Now, the difficulty for us comes from the policy of independence. They arbitrarily set up their salaries and their spending,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“As I have known, they do not spend all their [budgeted] money and then don’t return the money back. They keep the money,” he said. “They say that they are independent institutions, and so they spend it arbitrarily.”
The prime minister singled out the National Assembly, saying its salary books have been particularly taxing on the government’s annual budgets in recent years.
“The officials who are working at the National Assembly and the Senate, their salaries are high, and if they recruit staff based on their independence, this is additional spending for the national budget,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “We are unable to control how many staff they have.”
The prime minister then called on state institutions to release their annual audits.
“This issue has to be made public, because we work without hiding anything,” he said.
In October, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay launched a campaign against Leng Peng Long, the National Assembly’s secretary-general, alleging that the long-serving administrator was overseeing a personal fiefdom inside the parliament.
Mr. Chhay noted that at least seven members of the family of Mr. Peng Long’s deputy, Kith Naren, had found well-salaried positions in the National Assembly, including as heads of both its finance and auditing departments.
He also complained about $25,000 earmarked for a single flagpole, an unexplained $11.5 million spent on overseas trips last year, and Mr. Peng Long’s repeated refusal to release a list of all the people drawing salaries as staff in the Assembly.
“This is long overdue,” Mr. Chhay said Wednesday of the prime minister’s comments.
“Nearly half the budget of the National Assembly has been stolen for so many years. Leng Peng Long receives a salary as an adviser to the [National Assembly] speaker, as the secretary-general, and as a retired civil servant,” he said.
“How can he have three different salaries?”
Mr. Chhay said it is now incumbent on Mr. Hun Sen to create a system to police overspending by state bodies.
“It’s important this isn’t just mentioned publicly. We need to set up a mechanism. You can’t just scare them. People aren’t scared of the prime minister anymore. He just screams in the microphone, but then we see nothing happens.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)