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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wall of silence on budget overspend

Wall of silence on budget overspend

The Ministry of Economy and Finance has overspent tenfold on its annual budget, claimed

the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).

The Post's efforts to discern the reasons behind the figures proved unsuccessful

with senior ministry employees unable or unwilling to answer questions.

Cho Vichith, chief of cabinet in the ministry, referred questions to Touch Leng,

director of the budget department at the ministry. Leng referred questions back to

Vichith, while repeated calls to Minister Keat Chhon, whom most eventually named

as the man to provide answers, went unanswered. Under-secretary of state, Ouk Rabun,

said he was unable to hear phone queries.

The Post finally obtained a breakdown of the figures, which were leaked to the SRP

from a source within the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The document states that

the finance ministry's budget for fiscal year 2001 is $5.8 million; it also identifies

the majority of the overspend as 'capital expenditure'.

The vast bulk of the deficit, some $44.9 million, was attributed to 'domestic financing

- construction and equipment', but further detail was not available. 'Subsidies to

provinces and municipalities' cost $4.3 million, with 'interest on loans' consuming

$3.6 million. Another $1.6 million was for 'amortization on loans'. None of these

amounts was budgeted for, according to the ministry's own document.

Budget department director Leng stated that as he was not in the office, he could

not say whether the allegations of overspend were true or not. He was unable, he

said, to provide an approximate figure of the ministry's annual budget.

"I don't know," he said. "Now I am not in my office so I don't remember.

If you want to know about that you should contact Mr Cho Vichith. It is impossible

to answer your question."

When asked if he, as director of the budget department, knew whether or not there

had been any overspend whatsoever, he answered:

"I don't know about that [alleged $54 million overspend], because I have lots

of work to do," said Leng. "You should write a letter to the ministry.

I don't know because the [expenses] have not gone through." Leng was not contactable

after that.

Opposition MP Sam Rainsy, who was formerly minister of finance under the first CPP-Funcinpec

coalition government, had what he claimed were the answers. In a faxed statement

he questioned why "so many figures related to the implementation of the 2001

State Budget as of September 30, show so large discrepancies" with the budgeted

amounts approved by Parliament last year.

Rainsy claimed certain ministries, including finance, had been used "by the

CPP-dominated government as fronts to cover political and partisan expenditures through

well known corruption practices".

Rainsy identified the construction and equipment costs as "inflated in favor

of CPP-affiliated construction or trading companies because there are no clear procurement

rules as required by donor countries at their last meeting in Tokyo last June (this

is one of the ten conditions to be fulfilled before December 31, 2001)".

He said the government was "legally compelled" to call immediately a special

session of the National Assembly to debate the overspend. In the absence of any comment

from government sources, Rainsy's were the only available explanations.

Uth Chhorn is the recently appointed general director of the donor-trumpeted auditing

body, the National Audit Authority (NAA), part of who's remit is to examine public


When the NAA was created earlier this year, donors praised the creation of the body

as a step towards good governance, sound public sector management and providing accountable

procedures for financial management. Chhorn, however, seemed reluctant to get involved

and initially said he was not available to comment.

Contacted later, Chhorn said that as his organization was new, he had not had time

to examine ministerial records. When asked whether he thought the general figure

of a tenfold overshoot of budget at the ministry was plausible, the phone connection

died. Repeated attempts to contact him proved fruitless.

Another ministry official, who did not want to be named, said that the topic had

"political connotations" which made it difficult to discuss.

"You know the problem is that I am not allowed to talk to the press about this

issue. We have strict rules," the official said.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance was by no means the only department to have apparently

overshot its budget, although it was the worst offender. Other big-spenders apparently

include (excess of expenditure over budget in brackets): the Council of Ministers

(101 percent) and the Ministry of the Interior - Civil Administration, (143 percent).

SRP MP Ou Bun Long said that one practical problem for representatives was that none

of the National Assembly MPs or senators had had their expenses paid for two months.

He blamed a lack of liquid funds at the ministry of finance.



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