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Parties agree to budget review

Showing rare political solidarity, representatives of the ruling party yesterday threw their support behind the opposition’s demands for greater budget transparency – an area in which Cambodia ranks among the worst in the world.

Officials from both parties said the National Assembly’s Commission on Economics, Finance, Banking and Auditing agreed to ask Finance Minister Aun Porn Monirath for a more detailed breakdown of revenue and expenditures from this year’s budget and the proposed $3.75 billion 2015 budget.

“The committee has agreed in general to wanting more information,” said opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay, deputy head of the commission. “How can we have a budget without a [detailed] report?”

Both Chhay and Khy Vandeth, a CNRP lawmaker and former high-ranking Finance Ministry official, said they and two other opposition members on the commission have written to the minister.

Their requests focus on ministries’ spending as well as revenue made from casinos, Angkor Wat, land concessions, telecommunications and tourism, among other things, Chhay said.

“Often MPs have no idea” what is going on, he added. “I hope we should get something.”

Commission head and Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap supports the proposal, Vandeth said.

“We have played our role. The two parties have agreed for the sake of national interest,” he said.

While Yeap could not be reached for comment, CPP lawmaker and commission secretary Ly Kim Leang confirmed that all members of the commission had agreed with the request for detailed documents.

“His Excellency [Yeap] agreed to [the CNRP’s proposal],” she added. “When we finish a meeting like this, it means we have all agreed.”

It was unclear yesterday whether the ministry would comply with the request. Porn Moniroth could not be reached.

A report from Transparency International (TI) and NGO Forum in March ranked the Kingdom as one of the worst in the world when it came to budget transparency. A separate TI report released in September said the possibility for scrutiny of the national budget was “significantly limited” due to the lack of details released – even to lawmakers and senators.

“This offers limited scope for checks and balances of the budget, and centralises power with the Executive,” the report says, referring to the prime minister, deputy prime ministers and ministers.

Presenting the budget to the National Assembly and the Senate only weeks before it is to be adopted as law – in late December – also “may limit the possibility for adequate scrutiny” by lawmakers, the report adds.

A year ago, concerns arose over an unallocated $1.5 billion listed in the 2014 budget. The government later explained that the amount was spare money to put towards meeting a number of “targets”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was charged with taking care of that money until it was used. The proposed budget for 2015 leaves $608 million unallocated.

According to information available, $324 million of the proposed budget money will go to the Ministry of Health, a 33 per cent increase. The Education Ministry will be allocated $453 million, up 35 per cent, while the ministries of interior and defence are due a combined $536 million.

Yesterday’s agreement between the two parties came a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen returned from China with news that that country had promised hundreds of millions of dollars in new funds to Cambodia.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL

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