Senate Passes Budget Amid Opposition Boycott

The CPP-dominated Senate on Thursday unanimously approved the government’s $3.4-billion draft budget for 2014 despite a boycott by the opposition SRP senators and a $1.53-billion portion of the budget left for Prime Minister Hun Sen to spend as he sees fit.

The SRP boycotted the four-hour session in protest over July’s national election, which it accuses the CPP of winning fraudulently. With only 11 of the Senate’s 61 seats, however, the SRP senators could do nothing to stop the spending bill from sailing through.

“The Senate meeting reviewed and agreed completely with the entire draft law without change with 40 votes,” the Senate said in a statement issued after the session.

CPP senator Um Sarith said eight fellow party members—including Senate President Chea Sim—and two appointees from the Royal Palace were absent.

The National Assembly, likewise dominated by the ruling CPP and facing a boycott by the opposition party, unanimously approved the budget last week.

CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap, who also chairs the Assembly’s finance committee, said the draft would now head back to National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who will then write to King Norodom Sihamoni to sign it into law.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, the Finance Ministry issued a statement attempting to clarify how a reportedly unallocated $1.53 billion in the budget would be spent. The statement offered few details and said that $865 million would be spent on unspecified “ministries and institutions.”

Mr. Yeap on Thursday said the prime minister would have the final say on how that money, about 45 percent of the entire budget, would be spent and depended largely on evolving needs.

“We don’t know yet what the money will be spent on because it’s reserve money that the prime minister has the jurisdiction to spend,” he said. “The money will be spent during natural disasters or wars and on the ministries that need it.”

The opposition has rebuked the government for not offering more details about how the money will be spent.

SRP lawmakers who boycotted Thursday’s Senate meeting could not be reached for comment.

The Senate on Thursday also approved a bill that split the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy into the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts and the Ministry of Mines and Energy and another bill to create the Ministry of Public Function.

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