National Assembly Debates 2004 Spending—2 Years Late

The National Assembly finally began debating the national budget expenditures for 2004 on Monday, announcing that the Health and Education ministries under spent that year, while the Rural Develop­ment Ministry spent more than three times its allocation.

By law, each year the Assembly must review and approve the government’s expenditures for the previous year, but the spending for 2004 is up for parliamentary review some two years late.

The Ministry of Health was al­located nearly $57 million for 2004, but spent only around $49 million, or approximately 86 percent of its budget, according to Finance Ministry data presented in parliament.

The Education Ministry fair­ed better, spending around 94 percent of the nearly $89 million that it was allotted.

The Ministry of Rural Develop­ment’s 2004 budget was nearly $6 million but it ended up spending over $20 million, the draft law states.

Even more over-budget was the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which was supposed to spend only $3.8 million in 2004, but ended up spending nearly $28 million—over seven times its Na­tional Assembly-approved budget.

The Interior Ministry was allocated around $43 million but spent nearly $46 million.

Finance Ministry Secretary of State Ouk Rabun told the Assemb­ly that there were some problems with the budgets of certain priority ministries in 2004, but added that his ministry had addressed those issues.

“The system has already been improved,” he said. “In 2005 and 2006 there were no problems.”

Minister of Health Nuth Sok­hom said he was too busy to speak to a reporter.

Chea Se, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, said his ministry under spent because its allocated money came late in 2004, putting the ministry in financial difficulties until it received more funding in 2005.

Rural Development Minister Lu Laysreng said that he had not checked on the figures for his ministry’s expenditures.

“All [went] to the roads,” he said, before declining further comment.

Ministry of Public Works Sec­retary of State Soung Heng said that he was unfamiliar with the budget or expenditure figures for his ministry.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said some ministries under spent in 2004 because the budget was not approved on time due to the nearly yearlong political deadlock that followed the 2003 national election.

The deadlock was also responsible for the two-year delay in debating the budget, he said.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said there was no excuse for the delay, adding that the numbers did not accurately reflect the spending by the ministries. The Ministry of Rural Development actually only spent 78 percent of the money the National Assembly allocated it, with the rest coming from foreign don­ors, he claimed.

He also claimed the spending numbers for the ministries of Public Works and Rural Develop­ment had been deliberately inflated to please donors.

“We cannot accept the way the government is fooling around with the budget,” Son Chhay said.

“[The figures] never reflect the reality of what the government is collecting and spending,” he added.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann told the Assembly that the expenditure figures lacked transparency. He also said it was unacceptable that lawmakers were only being in­formed of the total amount spent by each ministry without receiving a breakdown of exactly where the money went.

“The 2004 expenditure draft law is not transparent enough,” he said.

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