Critics of increased peacetime defense spending don’t value the sacrifices of soldiers and personnel, whose salaries and other costs make up three-quarters of the Defense Ministry’s budget, the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
Criticizing an increasing budget for defense and security means “looking down on and giving no value to those who dare to sacrifice fresh flesh and blood for the nation and bring peace to the nation and people,” the ministry said in a post on its Facebook page.
Opposition party lawmakers criticized next year’s national budget before its passage last week for providing big peacetime bumps to state security that could have been directed at social welfare programs.
“Generally in the world, many countries, including high-powered countries, do not publish their… spending for their defense and security sectors because this information is related to a country’s security,” the ministry’s statement said on Friday.
Nonetheless, the ministry said it had decided to publish data on spending for the ministries of defense, interior and justice.
Next year’s combined budget of $850 million for the three ministries is equal to 3.87 percent of Cambodia’s GDP, up from 2.92 percent in 2013, the statement said. The Defense Ministry, at 2.09 percent of GDP, was the largest of the three. Employee spending accounted for nearly 78 percent of the combined budget, it said.
Spending has increased by about 27 percent to account for a pay hike for all civil servants, which will boost salaries to $250 a month by 2018, the ministry said.
Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said on Monday that the pay hike would bump soldiers’ minimum salaries an extra $100 monthly.
“The government needs to raise their salaries…even though they do not complain at all about their standard of living,” he said.
The country could not neglect personnel training during peacetime, Mr. Socheat said.
“When the nation faces war, we use soldiers, but when the nation stays in peace, we need to strengthen our forces like providing them with more training to be ready for a sudden event,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said on Monday that the ministry’s rebuttal was unwarranted, given the CNRP first proposed government pay raises in the 2013 national elections. But the soldiers were not the main recipients of the money, he claimed.
“What exactly is the number of employees? And how do they pay them?” he asked. “Nearly half of the employees are just a name—not a person. We believe that there are a lot of ghost soldiers around.”
Ou Virak, director of the Future Forum public policy think tank, said he was more concerned about “the lack of deep reform within the military,” which had been involved in land grabs, illegal logging and human rights abuses.
The military’s main problem, Mr. Virak said on Monday, was a “lack of independence and partiality.”
“The spending is justifiable, but the lack of real reform in the military is not,” he added.