The National Assembly began debating the proposed 2000 budget Monday, and opposition leader Sam Rainsy wasted little time attacking it. The former Minister of Finance said the government’s economic policy has been a “complete failure,” and accused decision makers of keeping the country “miserable.”
Supporters of the plan saw things differently. They noted that the gross domestic product has continued to grow, and claimed the economy and situation in Cambodia has achieved “laudable advances.”
The 2.35 trillion riel ($619 million) budget is 57 percent larger than the 1999 budget, partly due to a restructuring of the tax system that increased revenues last year. Foreign aid also is up.
The budget contains significant increases in the percentage of the GDP spent on health, education, agriculture and rural development, said Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who brought the draft budget law to the Assembly.
But Sam Rainsy said it does not go far enough to ease poverty, and continues to waste money on a bloated military and security apparatus. Since his departure as Minister of Finance six years ago, the budget process has been flawed by corruption and a lack of transparency, he argued.
“What the government has performed in the last six years is not appreciated at all,” he said. “The standard of living of people is still critically low. It is miserable. There has been a compete failure by the government on socio-economic management.”
Sam Rainsy said unemployment is rampant, and called for an increase in salaries of civil servants to “at least” $80 a month, up from less than $20 a month today. He also complained most infrastructure upgrades were funded by foreign aid.
Keat Chhon disagreed, saying Cambodia’s GDP increased 4 percent this year, and is expected to grow a further 5.5 percent next year. “We have had a gradual increase in the GDP while in other Asean countries GDP has declined because of economic disaster,” he said. “The 2000 budget law will reflect the country’s progress toward a bright future.”
Military spending will fall from 3.8 percent of the GDP to 3.5 percent in 2000, Keat Chhon noted. Still, military spending will account for about $82 million—the amount planned for health, education, and rural development combined. And defense and security total virtually the same as budgeted this year.
Keat Chhon acknowledged more cuts in spending are needed, but said: “We will have a gradual reduction in military and security spending. We can’t make any abrupt reduction unless the military and police are cut off properly and appropriate skills for them are found.”