Hun Sen’s Cabinet Approves $3.5B Draft Budget

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s new Cabinet on Friday approved a 2014 draft budget of $3.5 billion, a 13 percent increase over this year’s budget, but gave no details as to how the money would be spent.

The CPP also said it will go ahead with a National Assembly vote to ratify the draft budget by the end of the year regardless of whether the opposition’s 55 elected members of parliament take their seats or not.

The CNRP lawmakers-elect are refusing to take their seats to protest July’s national election, which remains marred by reports of widespread irregularities that have yet to be properly investigated.

With 68 of the Assembly’s 123 seats, the CPP has the simple ma­jority of votes it needs to pass the budget. The opposition, however, says the Assembly cannot legally exist until its own lawmakers join.

The Council of Ministers, which announced Friday’s approval of the draft budget, offered no details on how the budget would be divided or how the government planned to pay for the increase.

Council spokesman Phay Siphan said Sunday that he had no information about the budget breakdown or projected revenues, either, while Finance Ministry Secretary of State Ngy Tayi declined to comment.

CPP lawmaker and party spokes­man Cheam Yeap, who chairs the Assembly’s powerful finance and banking committee, said he had not yet seen the draft. But he said the 13 percent hike in government spending was needed to cope with the damage in­flicted by this year’s flooding.

“Because of the flooding the government has to do whatever it can to help the people,” he said.

The opposition has faulted past budgets for allocating too much money to security spending at the expense of health, education and rural development, and for taking on too much foreign debt.

Of the $3.1 billion approved for 2013, some $400 million—about 13 percent of the total budget, and 17 percent more than the year before—went to defense and security. Education and health received a paltry $280 million and $225 million, respectively.

When the CPP-dominated Senate approved that budget in December 2012, a week after it passed the Assembly, the opposition abstained to protest the government’s refusal to cut back on foreign loans.

In a joint report that same year, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Cambodia had sustainable debt but warned that continuing to raise its level of borrowing could hurt the country’s ability to weather future economic crises.

The opposition has also faulted the government’s annual budgets for a lack of transparency.

In January, the U.S.-based In­ternational Budget Partnership ranked Cambodia 81st among 100 countries in its latest open budget survey. It scored 15 out of a possible 100 points, placing it in the lowest of five categories for how much budget information it made publicly available—scant to none.

The CPP’s Mr. Yeap dismissed the lack of budgetary transparency by his party Sunday.

“It’s their right to say this,” he said of the Budget Partnership. “We have the U.N. [Development Program], the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian De­velopment Bank to help us. They would not give their financial assistance if we could not control our budget well,” he said.

Mr. Yeap said the Assembly was also legally bound to approve the budget by the end of the year and would do so with or without the opposition’s 55 elected members of parliament.

“It’s not important if they join the Assembly or not and we don’t have to stop our work, so we just keep moving forward,” he said.

“There is no political deadlock because the Assembly and the government are formed.”

CNRP spokesman Yem Pon­hearith said any vote on the budget before the opposition took its seats would render the vote illegitimate.

The Constitution says the As­sembly must have 120 members, he said.

In 2003, the Constitutional Council ruled that simply having 120 candidates elected fulfilled that requirement. The opposition, however, argues that at least 120 of those elected lawmakers have to take their seats.

“If they approve it [the budget] with a single party, it will be their responsibility and the CNRP will not acknowledge it. I think it will not be legitimate,” Mr. Ponhearith said. “If the vote is 68 of 68 [lawmakers present], it won’t represent the entire voice of the National Assembly.”

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