In Southeast Asia, only Vietnam provides its citizens with less information about how the government spends its money than the Kingdom. Without a transparent budget process, it is “virtually impossible” for Cambodians to hold their government accountable.
This is according to a new report released by the Open Budget Initiative, a project of the United States-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The NGO Forum on Cambodia sponsored a workshop on the subject with about 100 regional economic experts yesterday in Phnom Penh.
“I would like to appeal to the Government of Cambodia to continue to do more in improving our budget transparency ranking as well as encourage more public participation in the budget process,” said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum.
Cambodia-specific research in the report led by Chea Kim Song, development issues program manager for the NGO Forum, concluded that “the government provides the public with scant information on the central government’s budget and financial activities assessed by the survey” and gave the CPP-led government a score of 15 out of 100.
In Southeast Asia, the Philippines ranked highest with 55. Thailand earned a 42, and Vietnam was the least transparent at 14. Laos, Myanmar and Singapore were not rated.
The survey of 94 countries found “poor transparency and accountability” around the world, with an average global score of 42, and 74 countries failing to meet “basic standards”.
A number of factors led to Cambodia’s abysmal ranking, according to the report, including the limiting of important budget documents such as the draft budget law and the mid-year review to internal circulation.
The government also does not release a non-technical version of the budget that would allow citizens to better understand spending priorities.
Chea Kim Song said Cambodia lacked proper budget oversight.
Neither the National Assembly nor the National Audit Authority has adequate authority, time or resources to act as effective checks on the budget process.
Minister of Information Khieu Khanharith dismissed the criticism.
“We do not care about Cambodia’s score ranking”, he said, and claimed that NGOs “are lazy because they did not read Cambodia’s budget reports, which had been published by our government every year”.