The National Assembly began its debate on the 2008 national budget Thursday with the SRP strongly condemning the allocation of funds put forward in the government’s draft budget.
According to the draft, planned government expenditures for next year have been put at nearly $1.42 billion—about $150 million more than the Finance Ministry announced just last month.
Speaking on the Assembly floor, SRP President Sam Rainsy said that his party could not give its support to the budget law because it did not provide adequate pay to civil servants and did not allocate funds in such a way that they’d reduce prices for consumers.
“The 2008 budget is supposed to be a tool to boost employment, reduce the price of goods and provide good healthcare,” he said. “I appeal to the National Assembly and the Minister of Finance to take back this national budget and reconsider it—the budget is far from what our country needs.”
Sam Rainsy took particular issues with the salaries of government employees, which he said should be tripled, and the price of gasoline, which he said the government should be taking measures to reduce.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who chairs the Assembly’s finance commission, countered that Sam Rainsy didn’t understand the budget law and was merely using it as an excuse for political grandstanding. He added that the government didn’t have the means to raise civil servant salaries to the degree the SRP was asking for.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who was on hand at the Assembly to defend the draft budget, said the government has already given $140 million in subsidies over the last 10 months in an attempt to stabilize gas prices at the pump.
Any changes made to the gas tax now would result in economic instability, the minister said. He declined, however, to say what the government charges per liter in tax. He also added that priority has been given in the budget to education, health, agriculture, irrigation and rural development.
“The 2008 budget shows the government’s will to maintain political stability, reduce poverty and bring development,” Keat Chhon added.