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Govt clarifies 2014 budget’s leftover $1.5b

Govt clarifies 2014 budget’s leftover $1.5b

The Ministry of Economy and Finance has sought to ease concerns surrounding a huge portion of the 2014 budget that remains unallocated, saying the leftover $1.5 billion would be spent on about a dozen “targets”.

Until that time, Prime Minister Hun Sen is the only person who is authorised to control the huge sum, which is equal to about 44 per cent of the total national budget for next year, a senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker told the Post.

In a statement released yesterday, following concerns raised by transparency groups that the unallocated funds would encourage nepotism and embezzlement, the ministry said almost all of the money would be allocated.

“Actually, a majority of the unallocated portion of the national budget was already in the target,” the statement said.

Cheam Yeap, a member of the government’s banking and finance committee, said that Hun Sen was in control of the money and its allocation, adding that he would report how it was spent to the National Assembly.

“Only the Prime Minister has the power to control the spending [of the unallocated funds],” he said.

Yesterday’s statement outlined several areas where the money would be spent, according to the ministry.

More than $104 million would be spent on infrastructure, for example, including roads, schools and hospitals, with $24.7 million reserved for emergency responses to natural disasters and national security events.

With the deductions taken into account, the actual total of the unallocated funds, the statement continued, amounts to $127.3 million, or about 3.8 per cent of the budget.

Does the government statement make a difference? “Not a single bit,” Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said. “The point is there needs to be transparency. This is people’s money and it belongs to the nation, to the people.

“There’s supposed to be public consultations. Regardless of how much they want to clarify, it doesn’t end the lingering questions [over the budget].”

The Draft Budget Law was approved by the National Assembly on November 12 in a unanimous vote of 66 ruling Cambodian People’s Party MPs. It is due to be signed into law by King Norodom Sihamoni in December.

“What concerns me most is that the CPP was incredibly strategic leading up to and after the July elections,” political analyst Peter Tan Keo said in an email. “Concrete plans were in place, from holding the first National Assembly meeting, swearing in all 68 members of the ruling party, to forming the new CPP-filled government, and now to passing the 2014 national budget, all without the opposition.

“The CPP lacked specificity when it came to funds accounting for nearly half the national budget. That’s a bit suspect and definitely raises red flags, especially for a country with a not-so-stellar reputation of corruption,” he added.

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