The National Assembly’s (NA) Permanent Standing Committee on November 19 reviewed seven draft laws related to the economy, trade and air transport. Among them was a draft law on the national budget for 2021, in which some analysts expect to see a larger share for the agriculture and health sectors.
NA spokesperson Leng Peng Long said on November 19 that after reviewing the draft laws, the committee set November 25 as the date for the 5th plenary meeting, during which seven bills will be passed.
“Among those draft laws, a draft law on the national budget for 2021 is very important and it is on the agenda,” Peng Long said.
According to an NA press release, the seven bills include the national budget for 2021, a bill on state expenses for 2019, a draft law about the stock exchange, a draft law on the governance of non-bank financial services and a draft law on the approval of an ASEAN agreement, among others.
In October, the Council of Ministers approved a 2021 draft budget that called for spending more than $8 billion. The government planned to spend some $7.5 billion of the total amount allocated, a decrease of 1.9 per cent compared to 2020.
Sub-national budget expenditures were expected to be about $634 million, a decrease of 22.5 per cent compared to 2020, according to a Council of Ministers press release.
Hong Vannak, an economic researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the government should allocate more of the 2021 budget for promoting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to strengthen the sector and ensure it can produce enough local food and consumer products. This would help Cambodia avoid being too dependent on imports, he said.
The agricultural sector, he said, should also be prioritised because most Cambodians are dependent on the sector, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has created a higher demand for agricultural products.
“I think the budget for the health sector must also be increased because Covid-19 has necessitated the building of quarantine centres. We should not use schools as quarantine places. Health equipment must also be bought and the capacity of nurses must also be built up to respond to the current situation,” Vannak said.
Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (Ansa) executive director San Chey said the government must strengthen the agricultural sector because it plays an important role in restoring the economy during Covid-19.
He said when the pandemic started, the food production chain was disrupted, causing some to worry about procuring their daily food.
“I think if the government advances the agriculture, health and education sector, there is not much concern for our country. I want to stress that the health sector should be improved and made accessible to communities. When we have natural disasters like floods, we don’t know to what extent people pay attention to health issues like the use of water and proper sanitation [concerning water-borne illnesses],” Chey said.