Plans to develop bond markets in Cambodia by 2007 will be delayed, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said Wednesday, because the government needs more time to get control over its money.
“We don’t want to start it now,” Keat Chhon said after a Finance Ministry meeting on creating a bond market. “The government cannot do it by 2007 because many obstacles need to be fixed, including revenue collection, cash and debt management and expenditure control…[treasury]-bills and government bond issuance need to start after those problems are under control.”
In 2001 the government adopted a 10-year Financial Sector Blueprint calling for the development of capital markets in Cambodia by the end of 2007.
Cambodia needs to develop a bond market, in which the government sells treasury bills to the public and promises to repay the investment with interest in order to pay for infrastructure, Keat Chhon said.
“Money collected from government bonds will be used to for irrigation, roads and bridges. These offer a quick return and generate public services,” he said.
But, he said, because budgets have not been credible in recent years, Cambodian government promissory notes would not be met with confidence by the public.
“2003 was a bad year in the life of the minister of economy and finance,” he said, adding that unforeseen events and natural disasters wrecked havoc on the budget that year.
He said that the draft laws on government and non-government securities were submitted to the National Assembly in 2004 but they are still waiting to be debated.
The minister on Wednesday received a Japanese government-funded report by one of Japan’s leading business consultants, the Nomura Research Institute, on the challenges that lie ahead for the birth of a Cambodian bond market.
Taking on public debt is how countries that are not dependent on foreign aid traditionally finance growth, and insure that spending on government functions such as health care and education is regular and not subject to monthly tax and fee intake, the report states.
But the Cambodian government’s fiscal regime must inspire confidence before that can happen.
“The National Treasury needs to be well prepared to make redemption upon maturity, otherwise it can be junk securities,” the report added.
The report calls for better control of the government’s cash, which is currently distributed in 1,580 bank accounts.
Ministries currently collect revenue and spend at their own discretion, without reporting to the Ministry of Finance, the report notes.
Debt owed to a number of private companies is also not reflected in the budget, the report states.
Recommendations in the report include prohibiting ministries from opening accounts in commercial banks and reducing the amount of money the treasury owes ministries.
These moves are necessary because bond investors want to know that a government’s expenditures are regular and predictable in order to determine the risk they face that their money will not be returned with interest.
The Nomura plan recommends trading Cambodian treasury bills on foreign exchanges as domestic bond trading develops. Once the bond market is operational, a corporate bond market would follow suit.