In all democratic nations, military expenditures, which include current and capital expenditures for the armed forces, derive from the national budget for the central government.
Such budget is approved by parliament for the national institution in charge of defending the nation’s territory and sovereignty – the Ministry of Defence.
In all democratic nations, the national armed forces serve the people.
The full allegiance of the armed forces goes to the nation, not to a group, a political, party nor a person.
The men and women who serve the armed forces of a democratic nation are well equipped, fit, paid and trained for military operations.
Their well being and the well being of their family members during the time of service and their pensions for retirement or disability and medical care should be the responsibility of the government in honour of their service to the nation.
That honour is also bestowed upon the service men and women by the people.
The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) is the only army to defend the Kingdom of Cambodia with His Majesty the King as its Supreme Commander according to Article 23 of the Constitution.
For these reasons, it is not acceptable for the Minister of Defence of the Kingdom of Cambodia to solicit private donations from companies to support the armed forces’ increased salaries, food and military supplies.
It is truly alarming to hear the Minister of Defence announce at a workshop recently held at the Council of Ministers that past private donations were spent on purchases of arms.
It should also be noted that at the same meeting, the deputy commander of RCAF, four-star General Chea Dara claimed that “ the army belongs to the Cambodian People’s Party”.
It is simply unconstitutional and unethical.
Cambodia’s national budget for national security which includes the armed forces, paramilitary and police has been above the budget allocated to the social sector for decades.
In 2013, defence and security budget was up 16.2 per cent; in 2014 it went up 17 per cent and the largest portion of the 2015 national budget – $567 million is for defence and security.
Furthermore, these two ministries have always received their full allocations from the Ministry of Finance and Economy while the social sector ministries have repeatedly shown under-expenditures.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2014 data base release, all countries in ASEAN have stepped up their military expenditures between 2010-14, with Vietnam leading with 59.1 per cent and Cambodia at 56.2 per cent although the lowest expenditures in comparison to other countries’ defence expenditures.
Solutions to fix the unmet needs of Cambodia’s armed forces to build an independent and neutral army ready to defend the Kingdom are solutions rested in political will for institutional reforms and definitely not solutions that can be solved by the business sector.
The first step, which has been taken with some promising signs, is the increased efficiency of revenue collection, reforms in customs and tax administration, transparent and accountable management of public funds and the fight against corruption that will allow the government to increase revenues for public services and investments.
The new leadership of the Ministry of Finance and Economy should be praised for taking steps towards reforms and more transparent performance.
Specifically solutions for RCAF is downsizing with a significant reduction of the high number of star-generals at this time of peace and stability and the full elimination of ghost soldiers.
A strong political will to regulate the bidding system and to eliminate the culture of monopoly and patronage will save the Ministry of Defence and the government millions of dollars that can go towards salary increase.
Uniforms, fuel, food, medical supplies for each unit must be accounted for and transparent without misappropriation. Quality of supplies must be regularly audited with information fully available to the public.
In accordance with the Constitution, Parliamentary Commission 2, the Commission of Economy, Finance, Bank and Audit is assigned by the Permanent Committee of the National Assembly to oversee the budget of all ministries.
It is therefore within the capacity of Commission 2 to undertake its roles and functions to conduct annual audit of the Ministry of Defence and to have the power of checks and balances in order to assure and to insure appropriate management of public funds by the ministry.
With a clean performance of the Ministry of Defence, Commission 2 could recommend and lobby for an increase in military expenditures as a solution for the unmet needs of the ministry.
The Cambodian people pay tribute to our servicemen and -women who have sacrificed their lives for the nation during the years of conflicts.
We are well aware of the hard conditions of our soldiers and of their families as well as we are concerned by the privileges held by high-ranking army officials and members of their families that have brought an undesirable image to our armed forces.
Our armed forces can not depend on the “ generosity” of private individuals or companies and must not be forced to find other alternatives to feed their families.
Our armed forces must be ready and must be focused on today’s territorial threats as well as be prepared for potential challenges in the future.
Mu Sochua is a CNRP member of parliament representing Battambang.