Minister Downplays Fiscal Woe

Finance Minister Keat Chhon on Tuesday downplayed the severity of Cambodia’s economic situation but warned that opposition actions to stop international aid could worsen the situation.

“The decline is not serious but if irresponsible politicians continue to act like this their behavior will pose more difficulties,” Keat Chhon said, referring to a letter sent Monday to the Asian Devel­opment Bank from opposition leaders asking loans be withheld.

Keat Chhon declined to comment on his meeting beforehand with First Prime Minister Ung Huot, but a cabinet official for the first prime minister said the budget was on the agenda.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, government spokes­man Sieng Lapresse also blasted Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh for sending the letter to the ADB.

“I think it was a letter to ask the ADB to take the Cambodian food away,” Sieng Lapresse told re­porters. “It was a letter to destroy the cooking pots of their people while they are suffering. They are immoral and do not have a conscience.”

A spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party replied by calling the government corrupt, saying it was holding the country “hos­tage” in the wake of July 26 polls.

Cambodia’s stagnant economy is unlikely to see any signs of re­covery until a new government forms, according to analysts.

But the National Bank of Cam­bodia in its latest economic re­view noted that consumer prices in August dropped slightly compared with July, the first decrease this year.

Prices fell 1.63 percent in August. Annual inflation, however, remains in the double digits at 13.98 percent for the first eight months, according to central bank’s report.

The drop in August, it stated, was due to the stability of the riel, a fall in the price of harvested ve­ge­tables, and stable consumer demand following the July election.

The highest increases on an annual basis were in medical care and household operations, which rose about 23 percent. Clothing and footware rose 22 percent, and food and tobacco prices rose almost 17 percent.

(Reporting by Van Roeun)

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