Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wall of silence on budget overspend

Wall of silence on budget overspend

Wall of silence on budget overspend

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

after that.

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

finances.

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.

MOST VIEWED

  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Cambodia records first Omicron community case

    The Ministry of Health on January 9 reported 30 new Covid-19 cases, 29 of which were imported and all were confirmed to be the Omicron variant. The ministry also reported 11 recoveries and no new deaths. Earlier on January 9, the ministry also announced that it had detected the Kingdom's

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • Kampot tourism quay ‘90% done’

    Construction on Kampot International Tourism Port – a 4ha quay in Teuk Chhou district about 6km west of Kampot town – has fallen off track, reaching 90 per cent completion, according to a senior Ministry of Tourism official last week. The project is now planned to be finished

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that