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Civil society, opposition criticise budget’s opacity

Koul Panha (left), director of Comfrel, speaks during a forum on the 2017 draft budget yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Koul Panha (left), director of Comfrel, speaks during a forum on the 2017 draft budget yesterday in Phnom Penh. Bun Sengkong

Civil society, opposition criticise budget’s opacity

Transparency advocates and a senior opposition lawmaker have lashed out at the 2017 draft national budget, which is currently in committee at the National Assembly, criticising its lack of details and small outlays for local governance.

The almost $4.9-billion budget for 2017 benefitted from a 15 percent increase on this year’s budget and, among other outlays, will provide $671 million to the Education Ministry – up 24 percent on this year – as well as $590 million for public works and transport.

The Health Ministry also enjoyed a 20 percent increase – to $416 million – while the Ministry of Mines and Energy was one of the few ministries to receive a cut – to $101 million, about a third less than this year.

Yet it was the large outlays for defence spending – accounting for 9 percent of the total budget at $455 million – during peace time that has drawn the ire of CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, who said by telephone that he did not believe the spending could be justified.

“It’s too much. The Cambodian government has been saying that it is at peace, so I don’t know why they need more money for that,” Chhay said, noting Cambodia still remained behind its neighbours on education spending even with next year’s increases.

At a forum on the budget hosted at the offices of election monitor Comfrel yesterday, the group’s director Koul Panha also complained that money allocated to the country’s commune councils – about $92 million – meant each may receive as little as $50,000.

That could be a problem for the government’s decentralisation efforts, he said, because the nation’s more than 1,500 commune councils could end up unable to finance the services they want to provide.

San Chey, director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, told the forum he feared a lack of transparency surrounding the budget, including the failure to release it widely to the public and the sparse details it included.

“Even now the draft document has still not been provided publicly. [The government] shouldn’t play with the word ‘transparency’ too much,” he said.

Natacha Kim, director of the Cambodian for Resource Revenue Transparency, echoed Chey’s concern, saying the budget couldn’t be properly scrutinised when individual ministry budgets were not broken down into details and were just given as lump sums.

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