Concerns over one-party budget approval

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth said in the National Assembly yesterday. Facebook

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)-controlled National Assembly approved the $6.7 billion national budget for next year on Thursday, but a former opposition lawmaker expressed concern for the future “consequences” of using state money without opposition scrutiny.

One hundred and thirteen of the 114 CPP lawmakers who attended the plenary session led by National Assembly President Heng Samrin voted to approve six chapters and 13 articles of the proposed 2019 National Budget that will see an increase of over 11 per cent in public spending on the $6 billion allocated for this year.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was noticeably absent. He is in Singapore attending the 33rd Asean Summit and related meetings.

In July, the national election was conducted without the participation of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose former leader Sam Rainsy called for a boycott.

Despite this, the CPP won all 125 seats with an over 82 per cent voter turnout, resulting in single-party control of the National Assembly.

National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long told The Post after the session that the budget proposals were approved by the assembly, at the request of the Council of Ministers, without any significant changes.

In October, the Council of Ministers approved the $6,791,249,000 budget for 2019 as laid out by the Ministry of Finance – an increase from the $6,018,543,704 allocated for 2018.

If approved by parliament, the defence budget will increase from $542-$604 million. Education’s share will rise from $848 million to $915 million. The health sector is set to receive $455.231 million – down from last year’s $485 million.

Before its approval, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth said: “Overall, in the preparation of the 2019 National Budget, though there are problems and risks, those problems and risks have been solved and the budget has been analysed based on the principle of improving the budget management for implementing the prioritised policies” determined in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency Phase IV.

“It particularly focuses on the people and structural reforms with good governance serving as the core.”

‘Strong support’

CPP lawmakers expressed strong support for the proposed law.

“I would like to express my support for the 2019 National Budget. I have thoroughly checked and realised that the preparation of national budget management has been studied thoroughly,” CPP lawmaker Mok Mareth said in the meeting.

Another CPP lawmaker, Chea Vandeth, also expressed satisfaction but requested additional attention on the education and vocational training sectors.

“I highly appreciate the previous government’s achievements under the smart and talented leadership of Samdech [Hun Sen]. On this occasion, I would like to acknowledge the Ministry of Economy and Finance."

“I would like to ask government representatives to pay more attention to vocational training to ensure that our youths have skills and become the production force for our economy."

“In addition, I would like to ask the Ministry of Economy and Finance to check on the spending on the education sector . . . the spending in this sector is high already, but in higher education, it remains limited,” he said.

However, former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath said it is not difficult to approve the national budget proposals while the national assembly is controlled by the ruling party.

“The adoption seems to be too easy. The national budget seems to increase and it dramatically increases this year. The adoption is easy since there is only one party."

“However, it lacks attention because no one opposes those spending. The national budget has been approved, but the implementation also requires someone to check, especially the opposition party,” he said.

“It is a concern for the Cambodian people since the national budget is obtained from taxes … from the efforts of the Cambodian people, and the bulk of the national budget is loans. Those loans will be paid back by the Cambodian people, not politicians. The next generation has to pay back the debt,” he said.