National Assembly Passes Five-Year $26.6B Spending Plan

The single-party National Assembly on Thursday approved the 2014 to 2018 National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP), which will cost an estimated $26.58 billion to implement. An extradition agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam was also passed.

Approved earlier this month by the Council of Ministers, it is the first time that an NSDP—the government’s blueprint for national policy and development targets—has been pushed through parliament in the absence of opposition lawmakers.

Drawing on domestic and foreign financing, including capital investment from the public and private sectors, the ambitious five-year plan will require approximately $5.3 billion per year to see through, Minister of Planning Chhay Thorn told the assembly.

“The NSDP reforms have already encompassed almost all sectors and the investment in major infrastructure has created an atmosphere that has made Cambodia attractive to local and foreign investors,” he said, reading from a statement.

“As a result, GDP [gross domestic product] per capita reached approximately $1,040 by the end of 2013 and saw the poverty rate drop to less than 20 percent as of 2014,” Mr. Thorn added.

The new plan aims to create a wider economic base in Cambodia by diversifying production, concentrating on engineering, expanding the electronics and textile industries and improving electricity connectivity, he said, adding that developing human resources and the agricultural sector were a particular focus of the strategy.

“We have prepared capital investment of which 60 percent is earmarked for rural areas and 40 percent for developing downtown areas and cities,” he said.

During the session, CPP lawmaker Nin Saphon said Cambodia should be proud of the progress and development achieved by the CPP-led government, and criticized the absent opposition CNRP for making unrealistic promises for political gain.

“If they want to say they will give 40,000 riel per person [per month to retirees] they can say it. If they want to say they will give $160 for worker’s monthly wage, they also can say it,” she said.

Tek Vannara, executive director of umbrella organization NGO Forum, said that civil society groups had submitted a series of recommendations to individual ministries and to the National Assembly prior to the NSDP being passed.

“The government replied to us by official letter and said they appreciated our recommendations and informed us that 20 to 30 percent of our recommendations were integrated into the new plan,” he said.

However, not all suggestions had been taken on board, he said. The group was still finalizing its recommendations on expanding the function of existing Joint Monitoring Indicators (JMI)—a mechanism that would allow donors and civil society groups to monitor the government’s success in implementing the NSDP.

“These are good indicators of the government’s progress and we want the government to improve progress,” he said. “But we want improved coverage, to see qualitative data that will give a clearer picture of what’s going on,”

According to a statement by the Ministry of Planning, the new development plan has increased the number of JMIs to allow greater oversight.

“The list of indicators to track, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the NSDP 2014-2018 has been adjusted from 63 to 67 indicators, 20 indicators for development goals and 47 relating to results, while 80 more have been added to the annex,” the statement says.

Prior to the adoption of the NSDP, the 65 CPP lawmakers present in parliament unanimously approved laws on legal and mutual assistance in civil cases between Cambodia and Vietnam, while an extradition treaty was also signed in an attempt to curb cross-border crimes.

The National Assembly resumes its session today to review a new insurance law intended to regulate the nascent sector.

All 55 elected opposition lawmakers have been boycotting the National Assembly since the July 2013 election, which they claim the ruling party stole.

(Additional reporting by Simon Henderson)

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