The government on Friday approved an increase of more than 15 percent to next year’s national budget, which will now surpass $6 billion.
According to government representatives, the extra funds will be used to improve the quality of public services – particularly education, healthcare and infrastructure – and aims to support a GDP growth of seven percent.
A press statement released shortly after the cabinet meeting on Friday ¬– which was chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen and was set up to discuss the Budget Law for 2018 – says the hike had been decided with a view to next year’s national elections, which makes 2018 a key year for the country.
The statement also said the government had chosen to increase expenditure to support economic growth, maintain stability and peace and fight the current slowdown in the world’s economy.
“The increased budget for next year aims to address the upcoming elections, including the Senate and national elections,” said Economy and Finance Minister Aun Ponmoniroth.
“Ensuring macro-economic stability, protecting peace and social order, as well as preventing any attempts at driving the country into chaos and instability are some of the elements that shaped the new budget.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen also addressed the cabinet, saying the new financial plan aims primarily to tackle social issues as well as promoting an environment of peace before the 2018 elections.
“The priority is to pay greater attention to social issues, particularly increasing salaries to our civil servants and armed forces as well as enhancing social protection,” Mr Hun Sen said, adding that the government was seeking to create a new budget that would meet the needs of all Cambodians.
“The main idea is to increase revenue and spend more thriftily,” he said.
“We do not have to raise taxes, but we must keep on doing a good job at collecting them. I praise the General Department of Taxation for doing such a great job at this.
“We are using IT to crack down on corruption and increase tax revenue.”
Kol Preap, the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, told Khmer Times the draft of the Budget Law for 2018 hasn’t been made available to the public yet and that a summary of the law will only be released after the National Assembly approves the new legislation.
“For the sake of good governance practices and full accountability, it is important that the government publicises the draft national budget law and allows time for comments, suggestions and input from external and relevant stakeholders before adoption,” he said.
“Equally important, the budget expenditures report should also be regularly publicised.
“As the national assembly elections approach, it is even more important to be transparent about how money is being spent in order to mitigate the use of money for political campaigns or advantages that could heavily jeopardise a level playing field in the country’s political life,” he added.
According to an outline of the budget seen by Khmer Times, the government will boost expenditure in three priorities areas.
The money allocated to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport will be raised by more than 25 percent, or $679 million, to reach $852 million.
Total expenditure on the Ministry of Health will increase by 16 percent, from $421 million in 2017 to $487 million in 2018.
Meanwhile, the budget given to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will increase threefold.
“In principle, I support the bigger pie of the budget allocated to education, health and agriculture,” said Mr Preap.
“At the same time, we would like to see bigger and more positive impacts by these ministries, particularly for agriculture and health.
“Every year more money is given to the health and agriculture ministries, but we think this is not really translating into more results. Perhaps there should be a comprehensive evaluation to assess and measure the work of these ministries.”
However, the prime minister said he does not foresee any problems passing the new law.
“Our national assembly is capable of handling such issues given we have enough seats to approve it. We do not care whether or not opposition MPs are present during the session,” the prime minister said.
Finance Minister Mr Ponmoniroth said the Budget Law for 2018 should be ready by the first week of November.
The budget report also said Cambodia’s foreign reserves are expected to continue growing, reaching more than $7.85 billion in 2018, from $7.53 billion this year.