According to provisional budget implementation figures from the Ministry of Finance, the country’s key ministries of health, education and rural development drastically underspent for another year during 2004.
By November, the Ministry of Health had only spent 35 percent of the money it was allocated in the 2004 budget law, according to figures obtained Monday. The Ministry of Education spent only 57 percent of its allocated funds, and the Ministry of Rural Development spent only 33 percent during the same eleven months, according to the data.
The Senate, which some critics accuse of having a purely perfunctory role and of accomplishing little, spent 83.5 percent of its budget during the period, while the Ministry of National Defense spent 75 percent.
Figures including December could not be obtained Monday, and observers said the spending in that month could alter the total annual sums for each government body.
“A lot of ministries spend a lot of their money in the latter half of the year,” due to late disbursement of funds by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Russell Peterson, director of NGO Forum said. “It’s a general problem.”
By November, the Health Ministry had spent only $20.1 million of the $56.9 million that it had been allocated, according to the figures.
The ministry may have difficulty accessing its allocated budget due to excessive bureaucracy at the Finance Ministry, Health Minister Nuth Sokhom said Monday.
“There are many steps at provincial and central level,” to get the funds, he said.
“It may come from rules and regulations,” prescribed by the Finance Ministry, he said.
Kong Vibol, secretary of state at the Ministry of Finance, and Ngy Tayi, undersecretary of state, both said Monday they were too busy to comment.
Lu Laysreng, minister of rural development, did not answer repeated phone calls Monday. His ministry spent only $1.9 million of the $5.9 million it was allocated, according to the figures.
Recording slightly better figures, the Education Ministry spent $50.7 million of the $88.7 million it was allocated.
Pok Than, secretary of state at the ministry, said he had not seen the figures and could not comment.
The Senate, having spent by November $3.9 million of the $4.7 million it was allocated, never has difficulty accessing funds, said Oum Sarith, Senate secretary-general.
“The Senate never has a problem getting money from the Ministry of Finance. I don’t know about other ministries,” he said, adding that senators, unlike some other civil servants, are also always paid on time.
Along with “daily administrative operations,” the Senate spends its budget on trips to the provinces and abroad, Oum Sarith said.
Also posting healthier spending than the Health Ministry was the Ministry of Defense, which spent $52 million of the $69.5 million that it was allocated. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor and Vocational Training spent $5.8 million, or 68 percent, of its $8.6 million budget.
One economist who spoke on condition of anonymity said that ministries such as the Ministry of Defense “have power so they can go and get the money any time they want. The Ministry of Health doesn’t have power.”
The economist said that the figures, which are dated Jan 12, 2005, might have been compiled too fast to be fully accurate.
The official budget figures, which have not yet been released, may contain additional data on 2004 and show that some ministries have in fact spent considerably more than the figures listed in the provisional report, the economist said.
Budget figures for previous years show a similar pattern in spending.
Figures for January to December 2003 showed that the Ministry of Health spent about 59 percent of its budget, the Ministry of Education spent about 79 percent and the Ministry of Rural Development spent about 54 percent.
The Interior Ministry, however, spent 167 percent during 2003.
In the same period, the Finance Ministry spent 199 percent of its 2003 allocated budget.
According to the provisional 2004 figures, the Finance Ministry spent 62 percent of its 2004 budget-or about $5 million-between January and November.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay questioned Monday why the same budgetary problems occurred each year and alleged that budget disbursement was being stalled until incentives were paid for freeing up finances.
“The Ministry of Finance has, somehow, for years been a problem,” he said.