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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Budget transparency at all-time low: report

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Budget transparency at all-time low: report

The government’s budget transparency score has fallen to its lowest measure on record, according to a recent survey, but officials remain optimistic that the score will improve in the future.

Cambodia’s score of eight out of 100 in 2015’s Open Budget Survey put it near the very bottom of the 102 countries examined, while Myanmar was the only country listed as faring worse in the region.

But the score was a disappointment even when compared to Cambodia’s own track record, with the Kingdom declining seven points from the 15 it scored in 2012, when results for Cambodia were last released.

The report, published by the Washington-based International Budget Partnership and presented by the NGO Forum, attributed the decline to Cambodia’s failure to publicly disclose nearly all of its most basic budget documents.

Only two of the eight most important documents related to the budget were published on time and made public, a decrease from four in 2012.

Most notably, a full copy of the proposed budget written by the Ministry of Economy and Finance has never been made public prior to its enactment at the National Assembly, which is not considered “international good practice”, according to the report.

Speaking at the survey’s release, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, who is also the deputy chair of the National Assembly’s finance commission, said part of the reason the results were so low was because the survey relied on data taken in 2014 rather than up to this year.

He admitted, however, that the budget process was rife with delays, obfuscations, and a lack of specifics, which led to hundreds of millions of dollars being lost to corruption, partly due to “ghost workers”, who either don’t exist or don’t show up to their jobs but still collect paychecks.

“I estimate ghost names make up around 30 per cent of [civil service] jobs. The military is about 40 per cent,” he said.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars can be collected back.”

Nevertheless, Lay Sok Kheang, deputy director of the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s budget department, said he was optimistic the score would improve in the next few years while planned budget reforms are enacted up to 2020.

Sok Kheang said part of the reason Cambodia scored so low was not because of an unwilling government, but due to a lack of know-how when it came to writing the required documents.

“Actually, we work a lot, but we’re not very good at writing reports,” he said.

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