The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
Sixty-six National Assembly members of the ruling CPP on Tuesday unanimously approved Cambodia’s $3.56 billion draft budget for 2014 without debate and without even the hint of an opposition, whose 55 lawmakers-elect are boycotting parliament in protest over July’s still-disputed national election result.
The ruling party lawmakers of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s long-ruling CPP also voted unanimously to create a new ministry for running the country’s army of civil servants, the Ministry of Public Function, and to split the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy into the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts.
The draft budget—which will now move on to the CPP-dominated Senate—includes $3.4 billion for national level institutions, a near 13 percent increase over this year’s figure.
“The 14.23 trillion riel is the entire national budget,” said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who chairs the Assembly’s finance committee. “It includes the national level and sub-national level.”
CPP lawmakers Suos Yara and Hor Namhong, who was at The Hague in his capacity as Foreign Affairs Minister, were absent from the vote. During the five-hour session, the CPP lawmakers in attendance defended their bill while some asked for details. But in customary CPP fashion, no one raised concerns or put up any resistance.
The draft calls for a hefty $920 million in new foreign lending to help pay for next year’s spending increase, but it also anticipates a 16 percent rise in state revenue from collecting more taxes on property and income.
Newly appointed Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth told the Assembly that the government would raise extra revenue not by raising fees or taxes but by collecting more taxes from those who should already be paying into state coffers.
“We will encourage the tax payers and the tax collectors,” he said. “There will be a reward for those who collect taxes well, and for tax payers it will be the same. If they have a good history of paying taxes, we will issue them a certificate.”
The government currently collects taxes at a lower rate than most of its neighbors. The opposition blames it on persistent and endemic corruption at all levels.
The opposition CNRP is refusing to take its seats at the Assembly until it settles its dispute with the CPP over July’s national election, which it claims the CPP won through voter irregularities. Citing various laws and articles in the Constitution, the opposition also claims that the Assembly has no legal standing until its 55 lawmakers take their seats in parliament, a position the CPP rejects.
“This is a one-party Assembly that is not legitimate,” CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said of Tuesday’s vote. “The government was formed without any legitimacy, so whatever is done by this illegitimate government is not legitimate, either.”
The CNRP has also criticized the government’s decision to split the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy as a move that would only serve to fatten an already bloated civil service.
The CPP has defended the ministry split claiming the ministry’s workload was too much for just one to handle.
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