The Ministry of Economy and Finance has overspent tenfold on its annual budget, claimed
the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).
The Post's efforts to discern the reasons behind the figures proved unsuccessful
with senior ministry employees unable or unwilling to answer questions.
Cho Vichith, chief of cabinet in the ministry, referred questions to Touch Leng,
director of the budget department at the ministry. Leng referred questions back to
Vichith, while repeated calls to Minister Keat Chhon, whom most eventually named
as the man to provide answers, went unanswered. Under-secretary of state, Ouk Rabun,
said he was unable to hear phone queries.
The Post finally obtained a breakdown of the figures, which were leaked to the SRP
from a source within the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The document states that
the finance ministry's budget for fiscal year 2001 is $5.8 million; it also identifies
the majority of the overspend as 'capital expenditure'.
The vast bulk of the deficit, some $44.9 million, was attributed to 'domestic financing
- construction and equipment', but further detail was not available. 'Subsidies to
provinces and municipalities' cost $4.3 million, with 'interest on loans' consuming
$3.6 million. Another $1.6 million was for 'amortization on loans'. None of these
amounts was budgeted for, according to the ministry's own document.
Budget department director Leng stated that as he was not in the office, he could
not say whether the allegations of overspend were true or not. He was unable, he
said, to provide an approximate figure of the ministry's annual budget.
"I don't know," he said. "Now I am not in my office so I don't remember.
If you want to know about that you should contact Mr Cho Vichith. It is impossible
to answer your question."
When asked if he, as director of the budget department, knew whether or not there
had been any overspend whatsoever, he answered:
"I don't know about that [alleged $54 million overspend], because I have lots
of work to do," said Leng. "You should write a letter to the ministry.
I don't know because the [expenses] have not gone through." Leng was not contactable
Opposition MP Sam Rainsy, who was formerly minister of finance under the first CPP-Funcinpec
coalition government, had what he claimed were the answers. In a faxed statement
he questioned why "so many figures related to the implementation of the 2001
State Budget as of September 30, show so large discrepancies" with the budgeted
amounts approved by Parliament last year.
Rainsy claimed certain ministries, including finance, had been used "by the
CPP-dominated government as fronts to cover political and partisan expenditures through
well known corruption practices".
Rainsy identified the construction and equipment costs as "inflated in favor
of CPP-affiliated construction or trading companies because there are no clear procurement
rules as required by donor countries at their last meeting in Tokyo last June (this
is one of the ten conditions to be fulfilled before December 31, 2001)".
He said the government was "legally compelled" to call immediately a special
session of the National Assembly to debate the overspend. In the absence of any comment
from government sources, Rainsy's were the only available explanations.
Uth Chhorn is the recently appointed general director of the donor-trumpeted auditing
body, the National Audit Authority (NAA), part of who's remit is to examine public
When the NAA was created earlier this year, donors praised the creation of the body
as a step towards good governance, sound public sector management and providing accountable
procedures for financial management. Chhorn, however, seemed reluctant to get involved
and initially said he was not available to comment.
Contacted later, Chhorn said that as his organization was new, he had not had time
to examine ministerial records. When asked whether he thought the general figure
of a tenfold overshoot of budget at the ministry was plausible, the phone connection
died. Repeated attempts to contact him proved fruitless.
Another ministry official, who did not want to be named, said that the topic had
"political connotations" which made it difficult to discuss.
"You know the problem is that I am not allowed to talk to the press about this
issue. We have strict rules," the official said.
The Ministry of Economy and Finance was by no means the only department to have apparently
overshot its budget, although it was the worst offender. Other big-spenders apparently
include (excess of expenditure over budget in brackets): the Council of Ministers
(101 percent) and the Ministry of the Interior - Civil Administration, (143 percent).
SRP MP Ou Bun Long said that one practical problem for representatives was that none
of the National Assembly MPs or senators had had their expenses paid for two months.
He blamed a lack of liquid funds at the ministry of finance.