The Ministry of Finance is planning to cut the military’s budget by $4.5 million next year, continuing cuts that began in 1993, officials said Monday.
The military’s budget cuts come amid a massive national demobilization effort, which is set to return 15,000 soldiers to civilian life by the end of the year and let go another 15,000 by the end of 2003.
The country will retain approximately 95,000 active soldiers by the end of the demobilization process, co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said in an interview Monday. The demobilization effort will not be affected by the budget cuts, the prince said.
But the cuts come at a time when the Ministry of Defense is already having difficulties paying its soldiers, the prince said, adding that most soldiers only receive about $20 per month.
“There is no way the soldiers could receive a raise now or in the future,” Prince Sirirath said.
Lim Sethya, a second lieutenant in RCAF Military Region 5, said his monthly salary from the military is about $12.50 and only pays for about one meal per day. He said at present, soldier’s lives are very difficult because the government is ignoring them.
“I have been a soldier since 1980. Back in the 1980s, the government paid a lot of attention to the soldiers but during times of peace they do not need us, so they do not look at us,” Lim Sethya said.
“My wife’s friend asked her what I did for work and told her I was a soldier, and she said to my wife, ‘You are married to a soldier? You are married to a sick pig,’” he said. “I am still in RCAF because I can’t find any work, but if I had a job I would leave the military in a minute.”
Since 1994, the military’s budget has been cut in half, while money earmarked for education has doubled and budgetary spending for health issues has tripled, an official at the Ministry of Finance said. The Ministry of Finance, in their 2002 budget draft, has set aside about $71 million for the military.
“How can we fund the military as much as they want when we are trying to increase money for social issues? The military is not a priority right now,” the official said.
The 2002 budget, which was submitted to the Council of Ministers several weeks ago and is waiting to be debated by the National Assembly, is scheduled to be completed “in the very near future,” the official said.