Minister of Finance Keat Chhon on Wednesday defended the budget bill for 1999 in the National Assembly, saying more government money needs to be spent on the armed forces rather than social services to ensure peace and security.
“What we spend on defense and security is important for the nation. We have to spend it for buying peace and security,” Keat Chhon told the Assembly.
In the proposed budget, the army and the police are set to consume 40 percent of the government’s 1999 money, he said.
Keat Chhon said that the approximately 350 billion riel ($92 million) budgeted for defense will be used for expenses incurred integrating defecting Khmer Rouge soldiers and for the transport of their families.
The Assembly met Wednesday to discuss the 1999 budget. They are expected to meet again today, the bill’s deadline. During the debate on Wednesday, opposition parliamentarians complained that the 1999 budget is nothing new from this year’s budget.
“We have a new government, but an old budget especially if you look at spending on defense and security,” Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay said.
He added that the government should make spending more for social sectors a priority.
Ky Lum Ang, a Funcinpec lawmaker, said that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call to make this an “economic government” could remain unfulfilled if the government ignores social sectors, especially rural development.
“We must pay more for defense and security but we should also focus on rural development in order to improve the living standard of the people,” Ky Lum Ang said. “If the government only makes defense a priority and ignores health, social, and education issues, Cambodia could face more poverty that can’t be addressed.”
A version of the proposed budget signed by Keat Chhon called for health spending to increase by 47 percent, education by 13 percent and agriculture by 59 percent from the year before. But the three sectors still make up only a small percentage of overall funding.