Over the past decade, total development aid to Cambodia has exceeded $10 billion, and the country’s NGOs would like to know where all that money is going.
At a workshop on aid efficiency in the capital yesterday, NGO workers called for the $3.54 billion 2014 Draft Budget to be made public so the dispersal of public monies and donations can be analysed.
“They say the draft budget is confidential government information … but in a democratic country, citizens have a right to this information,” said Tek Vannara, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum, which hosted the event. “Sometimes the government doesn’t understand that aid is not for them, but for us.”
Vannara said the NGO Forum asks for a copy of the draft budget every year, to little or no avail.
“Last year we got half the budget information after it was finalised. This year, I hope we will get the full document to analyse how the donor money is used,” he said. “We sent letters to the new government and the minister of economy and finance requesting a copy: one on the 18th of October, and one yesterday.”
In 2012, Cambodia received an aid package totaling $1.38 billion – more than half of that year’s $2.6 billion budget.
But at yesterday’s workshop, a report reviewing the country’s capacity for delivering aid found much of the funding is delivered directly to projects and organisations rather than relying on government distribution – a process which only complicates an already murky system.
“It’s very simple: We need to know where the budget is spent and cannot currently see the flow of money,” said Pak Kimcheoun, research consultant for Cambodian Economic Association. “We have no clear system to link the donor money to the target areas … so we cannot know if [the aid] is used effectively or how much is being given back to the donor.”
According to an International Budget Partnership report released earlier this year, Cambodia falls below Zimbabwe and Tajikistan in terms of budget transparency.
Yet, the National Assembly “has the full authority to release the annual Draft Budget Law”, according to the report.
“It’s not a technical problem, it’s a political transparency problem,” Vanarra said.
Government officials could not answer whether the draft report will be made public this year.
“It is government property,” said government spokesman Phay Siphan. When reached by phone yesterday, newly appointed Economy and Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth hung up when asked when the draft report would be released.
Until it is, NGO officials allege the government falls short of its responsibilities.
“Transparency in the budgeting process is very important for good governance and accountability which any democratic and open government seeks to practice,” said Kol Preap, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.