The Senate on Monday approved the 2004 budget, despite sparring between opposition senators and Finance Ministry officials about inconsistencies in individual ministries’ spending.
Before the first chapter of the budget was passed by 49 of 50 present senators—with one abstaining—opposition Senator Kong Korm took issue with a $752 million allocation to ministries for revenue and expenditures, noting the glaring discrepancies between certain ministries’ stated budgets and their actual spending.
In 2003, both the Finance and Interior ministries far exceeded their budgets, with the Finance Ministry alone spending nearly twice its appropriated budget.
By contrast, figures from 2003 and the early 2004 have shown that social ministries like Health and Education have spent only small fractions of their allotted sums.
“The government doesn’t use the national budget to generate employment for the people,” Kong Korm said.
In addition, opposition senator Thach Setha criticized the government’s revenue collection, saying that lax tax collection and the high prevalence of unregistered, untaxed vehicles used by government officials have robbed the country of income.
But Minister of Finance Keat Chhon defended the appropriations from the Senate floor Monday, saying that the government had collected “enough” taxes in the first half of 2004 to support its spending.“If we lost a lot of income, we could not have helped the people to have a normal living standard when the country faced a political crisis,” he said.
He said unemployment is not a problem.
“Only 2.5 percent of people are unemployed,” he said, though he did not say where that figure came from.
The low figures for the social ministries do not accurately reflect those ministries’ spending, as many were late in reporting their expenditures, he said. Ministry offices in rural areas are often late in receiving their money because local branches of the national bank lack staff to distribute the allocations transferred there by the Finance Ministry, he added.