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One-party budget looms

Prime Minister Hun Sen meets with cabinet of ministers for a national budget meeting at the Peace Palace
Prime Minister Hun Sen meets with cabinet of ministers for a national budget meeting at the Peace Palace on Friday. PHOTO SUPPLIED

One-party budget looms

As the opposition threatens more protests, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has turned its focus to a proposed $3.5 billion national budget that it could end up passing alone.

On Friday, the Council of Ministers, headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, approved a draft national budget for 2014, which includes 13.1 per cent, or about $500 million, more spending than this year, officials said yesterday.

The National Assembly vote that could send the proposal through to the Senate in coming weeks – before it is officially signed off on by the King in late December – would mark the first major vote on legislation since 55 elected Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers boycotted the opening of parliament on September 23.

A 2006 constitutional amendment mandates that only a quorum of more than half the members of the National Assembly – or 62 lawmakers – needs to be present in parliament for votes requiring only an “absolute majority”, as does the budget.

No details of funding allocations to specific ministries, or details of how the government will finance the budget have been publicly released.

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that the government will focus on infrastructure, agricultural projects and increasing the salaries of civil servants in 2014.

The opposition hit out last year at the government’s increased spending and its reliance on $923 million in loans.

Opposition lawmakers suggested at the time that the government should slash spending and implement a better system of taxation.

When asked if the government had proposed to reduce its borrowing from overseas this year, Siphan said it “was not raising the debt ceiling”.

“It has stayed the same. We do it accordingly to our income. We’re conservative with this income.”

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday remained resolute that international donors and lenders should not commit finances to the current Cambodian government due to its “illegal” formation.

“We started with an illegal National Assembly. The illegal National Assembly can only produce an illegal government. And an illegal government can only make illegal decisions and can only present an illegal budget,” he said.

Rainsy said that although his colleagues were following the budget proposal, he was not “[paying] much attention”, as the budget was merely “wishful thinking” on the part of the government.

“What the government has produced is only a paper budget. It cannot be implemented as is stated on paper,” he said.

Rainsy added that the CNRP would continue to hold protests against the government in order to convince the world that it is “not business as usual” in Cambodia.

Days after the July 28 election, the opposition claimed to have its own final figures from the poll that proved it won 63 seats – enough to govern – without accounting for election irregularities.

Rainsy yesterday stood by the figure of 63 seats, despite not having released documentation supporting the claim.

The CNRP, he added, preferred to push for full results that could only be produced by an independent investigation.

“Maybe we will [release the partial results],” he said. “It depends on events in the coming weeks, because we are making a counter proposal to the CPP [on electoral reform].”

But those proposals may fall on deaf ears.

Senior CPP lawmaker and parliamentary finance committee chairman Cheam Yeap told the Post that further negotiations between the two parties would not take place unless CNRP lawmakers allowed themselves to be sworn in by taking an oath to the King at the Royal Palace.

Political analyst Kem Ley pointed out that even countries that had extended their congratulations to the government were still calling for negotiations between the two parties – an impetus for talks to resume.

“I think the political deadlock is still happening and the [CPP] must go back to the negotiating table rather than passing laws illegally,” he said.

“Illegal” or not, Yeap said yesterday that the budget would likely be sent to parliament today.

“It is normal that the government has to increase the budget every year in accordance with economic growth,” he said of the 13 per cent increase.

The International Monetary Fund recently raised its 2013 growth projection for Cambodia to 7 per cent, while the government projects 7.6 per cent.

While that growth in gross domestic product is not necessarily reflective of a corresponding increase in government revenues, Siphan said the budget reflected the government’s income and ability to pay back loans, adding ministers had been “very conservative” in determining this year’s budget.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA

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