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Budget review under fire

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Traffic passes the Council of Ministers late last year in Phnom Penh. An assessment of the 2013 budget has found that the council spent 140 per cent of its yearly budget. Vireak Mai

Budget review under fire

The first chapter of a review of the 2013 budget was approved over the heads of opposition lawmakers at the National Assembly yesterday, in spite of a host of alleged discrepancies between the budget and the government’s actual expenditures and revenue, an opposition lawmaker said.

Sixty-seven Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers out of 110 parliamentarians in attendance voted in favour of the assessment, which compares real government expenditures with what was set out in the government’s budget.

Such reviews generally take place the year after the budget in question, but lawmakers were prevented from tackling the 2013 budget last year due to political instability in the wake of contested 2013 elections.

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday pointed to the ballooning budget allotted for the Council of Ministers as one of the discrepancies between the 2013 budget law and the audit report recently received by lawmakers.

In 2013, he claimed, the council’s spending went over by 40 per cent of its intended budget.

“Even though the money was used to increase the Council of Ministers’ spending, it’s still a lot of money that’s unexplained,” he said.

Chhay credited the litany of question marks over the government’s budget allocations to a mixture of corruption and a lack of accountability.

Therefore, he said, his party could not support any review legitimising the government’s expenditures.

He also pointed to shortfalls in revenue collection, saying the audit “report mentioned the potential of the government [for] collecting more taxes, more revenue”.

According to Chhay, the shortfalls have resulted partly due to the government turning a blind eye to companies and corporations that are not properly paying their taxes.

He fingered one major telecom provider specifically, saying that the firm was in the hole with the Cambodian government for $29 million, yet are only paying off their debt in $5 million yearly increments.

“[The government] are somehow allowing the system to enable them to pocket the money,” he said.

CNRP head Sam Rainsy said the law was severely lacking in detailed information, and “brought benefits into the hands of corrupt officials”.

But Cambodia People’s Party lawmaker Chheang Vun said the approval of the budget review proved that the government was on the right track.

“Individual parliamentarians looked at every angle of the expenditures,” he said.

“[This] means the government has spent it in the proper and transparent way.”

San Chey, of accountability watchdog ANSA-EAP, said that such majoritarianism will surely chip away at people’s faith in government.

“If [parliament members] from the ruling party always say ‘yes’ to the government, citizens will lose their interest, [making] democratic development decrease,” he said, adding that his organisation firmly believed that corruption was rampant in the tax collection sector.

The assembly is expected to vote on the next two stages of the review today.

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