During a one-hour meeting Tuesday, the Senate approved three draft laws, giving a final endorsement to the government’s 2006 budget and approving deals with two Chinese companies for the construction of four hydroelectric dams in Koh Kong province.
The Senate approved a $540-million deal for two dams in Koh Kong district’s Tatay commune with China National Heavy Machinery and $495-million deal for two dams in Thmar Baing district’s Russei Chrum commune with the Michelle corporation. The National Assembly approved both deals at the beginning of the month.
Despite the large scope of the deals, the Senate meeting took just one hour to complete—including 20 minutes’ discussion on the 2006 budget and about 40 minutes on the dam contracts—before 51 senators approved all three measures.
The brief nature of the meeting was indicative of the Senate’s limited role in Cambodia’s government, according to Senate member and SRP Vice President Kong Korm. Kong Korm said he was absent at the vote, but said he has complained about the Senate’s lack of independent action for a long time.
“The Senate usually does not have ideas at all; they just approve the Assembly’s actions,” Kong Korm said by telephone.
CPP Senator Chhouk Chhim defended the Senate’s speedy procedures, however, saying Tuesday’s meeting was not the extent of the body’s deliberations.
“We do not have enough power to approve laws, but the specific committees discussed these bills before they were sent to the whole meeting,” Chhouk Chhim, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, said.
She also dismissed criticism of the Senate, saying it was “normal” for the public to distrust the body.
“Civil society often criticizes the Senate. It is normal for them.” According to the Constitution, the Senate, which was created in 1999, has no outlined responsibilities beyond acting as a check on the National Assembly, to which the Constitution grants exclusive legislative powers.
Thun Saray, president of local human rights group Adhoc, said the Senate is hampered because its duties are unclear.
“I think in our country we don’t have the clear declaration of roles between the National Assembly and the Senate. They just only approve or adopt the laws or dockets approved by the National Assembly.”