Small Budget for Justice, Despite Calls for Reform

Despite a recent series of high-profile calls for judicial reform, the Ministry of Justice will have one of the smallest ministerial budgets next year.

The ministry has been allocated approximately $8.5 million for 2011, according to a copy of the five-chapter draft obtained this week.

Cambodia’s judicial system is broadly recognized to be under-funded, overwhelmed and lacking both legal know-how and political independence. The $8.5 million total is up from about $8.3 million in the 2010 budget and includes $4 million to be spread among municipal and provincial departments and $3.2 million for the judiciary.

The Supreme Court will have a budget of about $540,000, while approximately $550,000 will go to the Court of Appeal.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathna and director general of the ministry Chan Monor could not be reached for comment. Secretary of State Hy Sophea was so busy to talk.

Bunyay Narin, spokesman for the ministry, on Thursday admitted that the lack of space for new judges and prosecutors to sit in among some courts at the provincial level where the new building has not build yet due to the ministry’s small budget.

The court buildings in Ratanakiri, MondulkiriHe said some courts like in Kandal, Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham, Prey Veng and Battambang provices had obtained additional new building funded by foreign donors while the national budget could not cover them.

UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi described Cambodia’s judiciary as corrupt and incompetent in a September report. “Corruption seems to be widespread at all levels of the judiciary,” the report said.

While Israeli diplomat Walid Abu-Haya made similar comments during a recent meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. At the time, Justice Ministry officials refuted the allegations and claimed reforms were underway.

In an appendix to the main budget, the government details its medium-term development projects, including some related to the court system.

About $2.69 billion–described in the appendix as coming from foreign financial capital–will be spent over the next three years on government development projects. Just over 0.1 percent of that–or about $2.74 million–will go to Justice Ministry projects.

About $1.7 million will be used to construct new appellate courthouses, while the remainder will be used to improve the courts’ existing buildings and systems.

Thun Saray, president of the human rights group Adhoc, said the ministry’s $8.5 million–which represents about 0.3 percent of the $2.4 billion budget–would not be enough to carry out the extensive reforms necessary.

“0.3 percent of the budget is still very low. We need at least 1 percent,” he said.

“The government does not have the means, or the commitment, to reform,” Mr Saray added.

Prom Sidhra, secretary of state at the Justice Ministry, said yesterday that the ministry would use its small budget effectively.

“We could not compare to the Ministry of Education or Defense, which the government has set as priority sectors,” he said, adding that the Ministry only had a small budget when it was first established.

“We will use it for education, comprehension [of the law] and inspection,” Mr Sidhra said. “If we cannot reform in 2011, we will try it in later years.”

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport will have the highest ministerial budget next year, with about $218 million to spend. Industry, Mines and Energy gets the smallest allocation, at only about $4.5 million.



Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.