Surplus of $400M in 2015 Due to ‘Poor Budget Planning’

Cambodia saw a $400 million budget surplus last year amid “poor budget planning and execution” and “unsatisfactory project implementation,” official documents show.

The draft law on last year’s budget expenditure shows that unexpectedly large tax collections—up 16 percent over the year before—boosted revenues to about $4 billion as expenditures hit $3.61 billion. The Council of Ministers adopted the draft law last month, sending it to the National Assembly for review.

Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth speaks at a public forum on the 2016 budget at the National Assembly in 2015. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth speaks at a public forum on the 2016 budget at the National Assembly in 2015. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“The budget surplus provides the royal government with the possibility of saving and increasing reserve resources to support the implementation of priority sectors and to respond to any risks,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Economy and Finance that accompanied the draft law.

The document also highlighted Cambodia’s debt burden. The government borrowed almost $776 million last year against payments of nearly $83 million.

The ministry struck an upbeat tone for the year, crediting a stable political climate for increasing foreign investment and noting increased satisfaction among government employees.

“The reform of paying salaries to civil servants and armed forces quickly and fully along with salary raises also contributed to their motivation to perform their jobs,” the statement said.

Lay Sokkheang, deputy director of the Finance Ministry’s budget department, declined to comment on Tuesday.

However, in its mid-year macroeconomic country assessment, the ministry was less glowing about the budget process, which was recently ranked as one of the least transparent in the world.

“It is increasingly being realized that inefficient current expenditures, poor budget planning and execution, and misalignment between the country’s overall development strategy and the policy framework are some of the key factors that lower the efficiency of government’s current expenditures,” the assessment, released in August, said.

“In a similar vein, inadequate project preparation, unsatisfactory project implementation and lack of emphasis on maintaining infrastructure once built have plagued most public investment programs and projects. There is ample scope for improvements in almost all the above dimensions of public investment efficiency.”

The draft law did not provide any details on how national or local governments spent their money—information that civil society and opposition groups have complained for years is nearly impossible to track down.

“We cannot get that detailed information,” said Kim Nay, project director at the NGO Forum, which tracks the budget process and advocates for increased transparency. “We can only get the overall amounts.”

Ms. Nay said the ministry publishes some spending reports, but not more granular assessments.

“All of the budget documents should be made public,” she said.

Senior CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that he, too, was in the dark on line-item ministry spending. “We keep asking, but I’m not sure they will give it to us,” Mr. Chhay said.

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