A group of NGOs yesterday called for more detailed information on national budgets to be made public before their approval, maintaining that the public had a right to know about and comment on the expenditures that would ultimately affect their day-to-day lives.
Tek Vannara, director of the umbrella group NGO Forum, said that citizens were too often told by politicians that they prioritised fields like health care and agriculture, only to find after the budget's passage that the lion's share of funding had gone to security and national defence.
In 2011, the government and the National Assembly offered a draft national budget to civil society for review, but since then, the public has been blocked from participating, Vannara said. Presently, the assembly only releases figures for broad sectors of expenditures – such as health and education – and even then, only after the budget has passed.
"They say this is because the time is too short for them to offer us the draft … [but participation] by the public is a major key to filling in the holes to [shape] the draft in response to developmental and social needs," he added.
The 2014 national budget approved last November by the Assembly amounted to $3.4 billion, up $400 million from the year before, with education, security and national defence experiencing the biggest influxes of cash. The budget also included $1.5 billion in unspecified funds, which lawmakers later said would be spent on about a dozen "targets," but which was under the control of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who heads the parliament's finance commission, could not be reached yesterday, but deputy head Son Chhay of the CNRP said he welcomed the NGOs' recommendation, and would implement it when the new draft budget arrives.
"So far, the budget thing has been very secretive because the CPP controlled the National Assembly alone. But now, I have confirmed with the head of commission that the information [on the budget] must be open," he said, adding that he had not yet received the 2015 budget, but when he did – probably later this year – he would disseminate it and hold a forum seeking recommendations.