Opposition parliamentarian Sam Rainsy on Tuesday lambasted the government for its extravagant spending on the military at the expense of social programs.
His stern attack came as the National Assembly was debating the 1998 Budget Compensation Law, specifically the spending overruns. Sam Rainsy said the poor spending on programs such as rural development, health, agriculture and education has kept poverty rising. Tens of thousands of people are left unemployed because the government poorly handled the budget in 1998, he said.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon, however, defended the government on unemployment and a number of other 1998 problems, saying they were not caused by mismanagement but the “major contagion of financial crises” that hit the region. He praised his government for achieving an increase of 1 percent in growth in 1998, despite the financial crisis.
“This, I can say, is a success, that we could keep 1 percent economic growth during the turbulent time, while other Asean countries could not,” he told the Assembly.
Under the law being debated in the Assembly, the 1998 budget originally allocated more than 1.4 trillion riels (about $361 million) for the year, but the government spent more than 1.5 trillion riel.
“The year of 1998 was one of the most difficult ones ever, because in that year we had to pay for holding an election, and to complete peace with the Khmer Rouge. We had to pay these prices, even though they were expensive,” Keat Chhon.
Sam Rainsy insisted the budget was not helpful in reducing poverty or improving lives, saying it “was just used to protect the ruling party and its illegal government that emerged from 1997 coup, and then paid for an unfair election in which they stole votes to continue power and corruption….So this was nothing helpful but destroying democracy.”
His remarks were not welcomed by CPP and Funcinpec lawmakers. “This remark is a serious curse to put on our supreme parliament,” said CPP lawmaker Ek Sam Ol.