The National Assembly approved the 2011 budget yesterday after less than an hour of debate following persistent questions and comments from the opposition about transparency and government spending.
The National Assembly began debating the budget Thursday with frequent intervals of lawmakers expressing sorrow about the victims of the Koh Pich island stampede, which killed at least 347 people on Monday.
SRP lawmakers Thursday complained that there was not enough time to discuss the budget.
During yesterday’s debate SRP Lawmaker Son Chhay raised problems such as local authorities having to make unofficial payments to the central government to withdraw funds from the national treasury.
“We have often heard that when the provincial officials come to withdraw the money from the national treasury, they spent lot of money to run paperwork,” he said. “Why not send the money through the bank?”
In reference to a budget provision on foreign loans, Mr Chhay specifically asked about the $30 million Chinese loan the government obtained for the new Council of Ministers building, a building that Prime Minister Hun Sen did not choose for his office, instead preferring an adjacent building finished this year for another $10 million.
“Is it the careless spending of a foreign loan or not?” Mr Son Chhay asked. “Who would be responsible for this?”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, defended the Council of Ministers building saying that the project went through an audit and is now being used for the government’s activities.
At the National Assembly, Ministry of Finance Secretary of State Ouk Rabun, did not deny claims that local officials have to pay to process paperwork. He also acknowledged that the transferring of funds is not fully transparent, but that it has improved in recent years.
In the 2011 budget, approximately $501 million will be allocated to the social affairs sector. About $297 million will be spent on defense and security in 2011, while the economic sector–incorporating the Ministries of Finance and Commerce, among others–has been allocated a budget of almost $115 million.