The war of words continued this week in the National Assembly, with Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Sam Sundoeun calling Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government “the casino government” for allowing gambling to flourish.
That brought immediate and strong responses from three CPP members, who denounced Sam Sundoeun’s remarks as insulting, against the nation’s interest and intellectually dishonest.
The exchanges took place Monday, as the assembly debated the 2002 budget law.
Sam Sundoeun noted that the proposed budget doubles expected revenue from casinos, from 16 billion riel in 2001 ($4,102,564) to 31 billion ($7,948,718). It also shows a 50 million riel increase ($12,821) in expected taxes on lotteries.
“Increasing taxes on casinos and lotteries encourages more gambling in our country,” he said. “We are killing our people in an indirect way. Casinos are sources of misery.”
Poor people have been evicted to make way for casinos and relocated to unsuitable sites, including at least one with land mines.
“Don’t be angry if I call this the casino government, because it is encouraging more casino revenues,” Sam Sundoeun said.
But Ek Sam Ol, a CPP lawmaker, was angry and said Sam Sundoeun’s insult was unacceptable. He noted the government “emerged from the 1998 election with more than two-thirds of the votes,” and said opposition party comments oppose the national interest.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers have compared the government to the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia to Afghanistan, even referring to the country as a “banana kingdom,” he said. If conditions were this dire, he said, “foreign donors would not help.”
Finance Minister Keat Chhon dismissed Sam Sundoeun’s remarks as political attacks as the commune elections approach, and said they were intellectually dishonest.
The government is not allowing casinos or lotteries to run rampant, but is controlling them, and will ban Internet gambling for those without licenses, he said.
He said he did appreciate hearing opposition party attacks within the Assembly as opposed to in the media.
Sam Sundoeun then criticized Cabinet Minister Sok An’s performance as chairman of the Armed Forces Demobilization Council. Soldiers want cash, not goods like motorcycles or sewing machines, he said, and they suspect the process is corrupt.
Sok An angrily denied that officials are taking kickbacks on the compensation packages, and said each soldier is getting goods of equal value.
Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy criticized the government for giving teachers 30 percent raises, saying they should get at least $100 to $150 per month because they are crucial to the country’s future.
Sok An said as many as 500 civil servants might be given additional raises next year to encourage capable employees to stay with the government instead of leaving for better jobs with NGOs.