National Assembly expenses under scrutiny

A view of the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh
A view of the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh. Son Chhay requested spending reports from the general secretariat of Parliament, citing irregularities in spending. Scott Howes

National Assembly expenses under scrutiny

Son Chhay, deputy chair of the National Assembly’s Banking and finance commission, yesterday demanded detailed spending reports from assembly administrators during a commission hearing with senior members of its general secretariat.

Following a two-hour closed door meeting, the opposition lawmaker told reporters that his investigations have uncovered irregular expenses at parliament this year including the purchase of $12,000 lightning rods and the construction of a $50,000 gate.

“The loss of money at the National Assembly comes from two major sources. Firstly, spending in relation to hospitality reaches about $11 [million] to $12 million per year. This hospitality includes guests visiting our country through the National Assembly or lawmakers going on missions abroad, with $11.55 million spent, which is extravagant and no one checks,” Chhay said.

“[The] second area is spending on construction and the purchase of materials which are unusually expensive”, he continued, citing the purchase of a $35,000 flagpole, plans to buy a number of similarly priced photocopiers, and the planned acquisition of a fleet cars costing almost $100,000 each.

He said that evidence of widespread nepotism and ghost workers in addition to such questionable expenses meant the commission required clarifications from assembly secretary-general Leng Peng Long.

“I also stressed to them that stealing from the budget . . . [and] placing staff based on nepotism or bribes are crimes under the penal code,” he said, repeating allegations that assembly deputy secretary-general Mith Karen has more than a dozen family members working in the administration. Attempts to reach Karen were unsuccessful.

Cheam Yeap, the commission’s chairman and a senior CPP lawmaker, did not attend the meeting. He has reportedly disapproved of Chhay’s push to question Peng Long but could not be reached for comment about the matter yesterday.

Chhay claimed Peng Long answered during the meeting that he would have to wait for National Assembly president Heng Samrin to give him permission to pass documents to the commission that could shed light on exorbitant spending.

According to Chhay, the assembly’s budget is almost $40 million for 2015, with 1,351 workers currently on the payroll, a more than three-fold increase from 2006.

Peng Long declined to comment on Chhay’s allegations yesterday when reached by phone. He referred questions to commission chairman Yeap.

Ly Kimleng, a CPP lawmaker and the commission’s secretary, said the questioning focused on the assembly’s procurement. She confirmed that a request for documents had been made so parliament’s expenditures could be reviewed, but unlike Chhay, claimed Peng Long had agreed to provide them. “They agreed that they will provide the documents we want and what is available,” she said.

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