Senators Approve 2004 Government Budget

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.


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