OPPOSITION lawmakers have called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to account for the large increase in the 2009 national budget, expressing concerns the country lacks the revenue to cover all its slated expenditures during the current global financial upheaval.
In a letter dated Friday, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians advised the prime minister to consider amending the 2009 Budget Law, approved by the National Assembly in December, citing a significant drop in customs tax revenue in the first two months of this year.
The Assembly approved US$1.75 billion in spending for 2009, a 28 percent jump on the $1.37 billion spent in 2008.
The letter claims that the Ministry of Finance's General Department of Customs and Excise collected just $64 million in customs tax revenues over January and February, compared with $86 million over the same period last year - a decrease of around 27 percent. Based on these figures, the letter said, tax receipts will fall well short of the $585 million expected in 2009.
"I think the figures show clearly that the government won't be able to collect the amount of customs tax it is planning," said SRP lawmaker Son Chhay.
"My question to the government is what sources of income the government will use for budget expenditures."
He said also that the slowdown in the global economy would likely lead to a further tightening of the state's coffers, estimating that the government would collect a mere 57 percent of its total planned expenditure for 2009.
Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh and other local and international institutions have forecast that the Cambodian economy will be impacted by the financial crisis, especially in garments, tourism, agriculture and construction - the four pillars of the Kingdom's economy. Earlier this month, the IMF predicted Cambodia's GDP would shrink by 0.5 percent in 2009, a far cry from the government's prediction of a 6 percent rise.
Kun Nhem, deputy director of the General Department of Customs and Excise, agreed that import taxes had declined slightly this year, noting a sharp decline in car, motorbike and gasoline imports.
He said that the financial situation has taken the National Assembly by surprise, and that when it debated the Budget Law in December, no one had expected to face such a severe economic downturn.
He added that the department would review the situation in the first quarter of 2009 and set out a new revenue plan based on the current economic situation.
But National Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel said the opposition should not worry about the budget for this year.
"Be aware that the government has already known that this would happen before planning the budget. We do have a package of funds to spare once the financial crisis arrives," he said.
"It is not the right time to ask the government about budget expenditures before the law is implemented."