The ruling Cambodian People’s Party passed the government’s $4.3 billion budget for 2016 unopposed yesterday as Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers followed through on a pledge to sit out the National Assembly session if concerns for their members’ safety were not addressed.
The CNRP’s 55 parliamentarians boycotted the session amid an increasingly tense political environment that has seen an arrest warrant issued for party president Sam Rainsy, the stripping of deputy leader Kem Sokha’s parliamentary title and the savage beating of two lawmakers outside the assembly after a session in late October.
The 66 ruling party lawmakers in attendance voted unanimously in favour of the budget, which will see spending increased more than 12 per cent from 2015.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, chairman of the assembly’s financial and banking commission, read off the draft budget’s chapters before calling for a show of hands.
“I regret the boycott of the lawmakers from the CNRP, they have now boycotted two times,” he said, referring to the CNRP’s decision to abstain from last year’s vote. “However, I hope that the government will use the budget successfully.”
Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth said the budget law would secure the country’s continued economic growth, touting a GDP increase “of about 7 per cent per annum”.
He added that the assembly had also approved the borrowing of the equivalent of $961 million from foreign countries to meet the budget projections.
The broad strokes of 2016 ministry budgets unveiled in October show significant increases to the Education, Military and Labour ministries’ budgets as well as the elimination of taxes on certain modes of transportation and new raises for civil servants.
The largest increases will see education spending upped 28 per cent to $502 million, while the defence budget rose 17.3 per cent to $382 million. Spending on health, meanwhile, will increase 8 per cent to $275 million.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith yesterday criticised some aspects of the budget, including the incurring of close to $1 billion in foreign debt and what he said was its lack of focus on efficient revenue gathering, although he praised other aspects including the civil servants’ raises.
Ponharith said that despite the boycott, the party remained committed to the “culture of dialogue” for now and would not call for a total boycott of a parliament.
The CPP also passed two other laws yesterday which were not publicly shared, one on the telecommunications sector and another on statistics.
Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, said the CNRP’s boycott did little to change the fact that the budget has always been tightly controlled by the CPP.
“[The boycott] doesn’t change a lot,” he said.