The government aims to nearly double health and education spending by 2018, according to a guiding policy document officially launched by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday.
However, critics were quick to point out that ambitious government expenditure commitments on paper have often failed to be met in practice.
The National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) 2014-2018 projects that the health budget will rise from about $261 million this year to $450 million in 2018.
Education Ministry funding, meanwhile, is slated to rise from $327 million this year to $584 million in 2018.
That translates to a proportional jump in health funding from 13 per cent to 15 per cent of total budget expenditure for the “selected ministries and agencies” for which estimates are provided.
Education spending would increase from 16 per cent of the total budget today to 20 per cent in four years’ time.
The opposition party and civil society groups have for years been calling for a greater proportion of the budget to be spent on health and education, and less on defence and security.
The NSDP projects that while defence and security spending (which includes military and police) will still rise in dollar terms over the period, by 2018, proportional spending will drop from 21.5 per cent to 19.4 per cent.
The NSDP said spending projections were “indicative”.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment in detail yesterday, saying he had not seen the spending plan. But he said that while past budget laws had been “very good” in terms of allocations to health and education, the actual distribution of funds had often not matched up.
“They will approve 100 per cent, but when the ministry gets the money from the finance ministry, it’s 60-70 per cent,” he said, adding that corruption was an obvious concern.
Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, which represents international and local NGOs, said the spending projections were a positive sign “but we also question how the money can be generated to support this”.
“The budget of Cambodia in 2013-14 depended heavily on loans and [aid] from other countries. That’s a lot of our concern.”
Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth and senior ministry officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. Cheam Yeap, head of the parliamentary commission on banking and finance, was also unable to be reached.
Saroeun also said that budget management needs to improve.
“It is very critical that the government try to . . . decentralise the budget to the local levels so more money [makes it into the field] rather than keeping a lot of money with the administration at the central level.”
San Chey, country coordinator at Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said it was important that spending projections were continually reassessed in line with what the ministries are actually doing.
“It’s a four-year plan, so it should be implemented in a flexible way.”
He added that in contrast to reforms at the Education Ministry under new minister Hang Chuon Naron, the Health Ministry had until now failed to become more transparent and accountable, despite corruption scandals.
“The budget has increased, so the accountability of the Ministry of Health must also increase,” he said.
Neither health ministry nor education ministry officials could be reached for comment.