Gov’t Seeks Big Increase in Defense Spending

The government is seeking to increase the 2009 Defense Ministry budget to approximately $500 million, nearly 68 percent larger than last year’s budget of $300 million, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Tuesday.

The Council of Ministers ap­proved the budget increase on Fri­day, and the plan will next go before the National Assembly for ap­proval in November, said Cheam Yeap, who chairs the Assembly’s finance commission.

“I think that the National As­sembly will examine and approve this proposal when it reaches them,” he added.

On Oct 17, two days after the clash between Thai and Cambo­dian troops at Preah Vihear temple, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he would push for increased defense spending.

Cheam Yeap said the National Assembly would also examine a separate reserve budget for national defense, but said he did not know by how much it would increase.

“Increasing the [defense] budget is very important,” said SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua on Tues­day, “but I want to know how the government plans to use the money, how many soldiers there are, and where the money will come from.”

According to Cheam Yeap, the money will be used for military training, improved health care, and better military uniforms.

If the $1.89 billion draft national budget for 2009 passes, it will be more than twice the size of the 2006 national budget, which was projected at $926 million.

The defense budget has ballooned even more since then.

In 2006, the defense budget was only $75.7 million—less than one sixth of the proposed 2009 defense budget.

Despite the increase, the defense budget still takes up a smaller portion of the national budget than it did while the government battled the remnants of the Khmer Rouge in the 1990s, when more than half of government spending went to the military and police.

In the years since, defense has typically been allocated a similar amount of the national budget as social services each year.

“National defense is important,” said Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho. “But education and health care are how we develop the country,” she added.

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