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National budget passed

The Cambodian Peoples’ Party-dominated National Assembly passed the national budget along party lines after less than an hour of debate on Friday, drawing sharp criticism from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

Of the 98 participating lawmakers, 76 voted to approve the US$2.4 billion budget for 2011, an increase of about 19 percent compared to this year’s $1.98 billion.
No changes were made to the draft proposal advanced last month by the Council of Ministers.

Ouk Rabun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, claimed on the Assembly floor that the budget would help Cambodia achieve economic growth of 7 percent in the coming year.

“The budget expenditures for 2011 are focused on improving education, health, agriculture, including irrigation systems, and infrastructure development,” he said.
Members of the SRP yesterday criticised the quick passage of the budget.

“I think it was bad debating the budget law without revising it, and the budget was lacking transparency and participation, [as well as] an equitable distribution of national wealth”, said SRP lawmaker Son Chhay.

He noted that about 70 percent of the budget was allocated to the central government, while rural areas – home to an estimated 80 percent of Cambodia’s population – had received about 30 percent.

Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, said yesterday that insufficient funds had been allocated to the agricultural sector.
“We would like the government to prioritise the agricultural sector because many Cambodian farmers are living in rural areas and most of them are doing agriculture for their livelihood,” he said.
He called on the government to invest more in improving rice productivity, agricultural education and irrigation.

He said the sector would also benefit from reformed economic land concession policies.

“Looking at the economic land concessions, we would like more capacity building of the farmer where the farmer could produce the crops, or agro-industry crops, rather than giving the land to the private companies,” he said.

Cambodia came under fire for abysmal transparency in its budgeting process earlier this month. A report from the Open Budget Initiative, a project of the United States-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded that “the government provides the public with scant information on the central government’s budget and financial activities assessed by the survey”, leaving it “virtually impossible” for Cambodians to hold their government accountable. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER

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