Fourteen NGOs gathered on Thursday to appeal to the government and the National Assembly to increase the budgets for four sectors which they believe are underfunded – health, agriculture, natural resource management, and the sub-national level budget.
The NGO Forum on Cambodia executive director Tek Vannara delivered the opening speech at a full day workshop organised by the 14 NGOs. It was attended by 100 participants, including students, civilians and officials from the ministries of Interior and Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS).
He said the 14 NGOs have been conducting research on the national budget.
“I know the National Assembly has already signed the budget for 2019, but there will be a national budget for 2020. In some sectors, there is money left over and in others, all the money is used.
“So they could take the money which is left over to add on to those sectors,” he said, adding that they had sent their request to the National Assembly and the Senate so they can inspect it and make a decision.
“We want the sub-national authorities to be more active and to have enough budget to provide services,” Vannara said.
He said Cambodia’s national parks and protected areas cover an area of 17.5 million hectares but there are not enough officials and rangers.
“How can a person safeguard [so] such a large area? We need more rangers. We also want more money spent on agriculture, because many people are farmers. We want them to be able to compete with other countries and be able to produce crops.
“It all depends on budget investment. We know too that there is not enough medicine at health centres, so it is important to increase funding there too,” said Vannara.
Meanwhile, he appealed to the government and the Ministry of Economy and Finance to be more open to young people and sub-national authorities having a role in drawing up the national budget.
“Public participation is also still limited and their understanding is just as limited. We want the ministries to engage more with them,” Vannara said.
Last month, the National Assembly approved a $6.7 billion national budget for 2019 – a more than 11 per cent increase from the previous year.
Department Director of Finance at the MoEYS Chea Kim said the ministry’s budget continues to increase, and most of the funds go to paying salaries to staff.
“Some 80 per cent of the budget was spent on staff salaries and 20 per cent was spent on priority areas including developing the curriculum, printing books and staff capacity building. And we hope that those key priority areas keep increasing,” he said.
Chan Makara, an 18-year-old grade 12 student from Siem Reap, attended the workshop.
“In my opinion, people in my village don’t know much about the commune budget and national budget. They only know that every five years there is a national election, after which the authorities build roads and invest in public expenditure.
“As villagers, we can propose what particular issues or development we want to have in our village and inform our authorities so that the money is spent on those things,” she said.