By Zsombor Peter and Hul Reaksmey - October 29, 2013
The Education Ministry on Monday said it was in line for a near 20 percent hike from the government’s $3.52 billion draft budget for 2014, approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet on Friday, though other details of how money was to be allocated remained elusive.
Newly appointed Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said his ministry was being offered a $335 million budget for next year, up from the $280 million it was budgeted for in 2013.
“We heard the budget increased for education. The budget for 2014 increased…to $335 million,” said Mr. Chuon Naron, who was “happy” with the plan.
If approved by the National Assembly later this year as expected, it will represent a 19.6 percent hike in funding for the ministry, which aid agencies and teachers’ unions have long considered desperately underfunded. Yet, the funds for education still come in at less than 2 percent of the country’s projected 2014 gross domestic product (GDP)—or $17.2 billion as projected by the World Bank—a figure unions, aid donors and even some ministry officials consider far too low.
In August, Education Ministry Secretary of State Nath Bunroeun said the sector needed at least twice what it was getting, not least of all to raise paltry teacher salaries.
“If we want to output quality graduates we need quality input, and that means better trained, better paid teachers,” he said at the time at a workshop on the ministry’s new five-year plan. “We should be inputting between 4 and 6 percent [of GDP].”
Critics have also blamed past national budgets for underfunding social sectors such as education and health in favor of more spending on security.
The ministries of defense and interior received a combined $400 million in 2013.
Defense Minister General Tea Banh on Monday declined to say what his ministry was being offered in the draft budget for 2014, but he said it would not be going up by too much.
“The budget will not increase too much because we just need a bit more [funding] for food,” he said, declining to elaborate.
The government has remained highly secretive about the draft budget since it passed the prime minister’s Cabinet meeting on Friday.
Officials at other ministries, including those for health and finance, declined to comment on their allocations.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the draft was a private government document until the Cabinet submitted it to the National Assembly for ratification, which it was legally bound to do during the first week of November.
“The draft is not supposed to be in the public hands unless it is submitted to the National Assembly,” he said. “At this point it is still government property.”
The opposition, however, regularly accuses Mr. Hun Sen’s government of making the budget process too opaque and of giving such important legislation too little time for debate.
“In the National Assembly in some countries they debate [the budget] for months, but in this country they debate sometimes only two days; it is not enough,” opposition CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said.
This year, the government is also threatening to pass the budget by the end of the year whether or not the opposition party takes its seats at the National Assembly. The CNRP is refusing to take its 55 seats, nearly half of parliament, to protest July’s flawed national election.
The CNRP says the CPP’s one-party Assembly is illegitimate until its lawmakers join, and Mr. Sovann said any vote on the budget without them would be illegal.
In January, the U.S.-based International Budget Partnership gave Cambodia a score of 15 out of a possible 100 points in its latest open budget survey. That placed the country in the lowest of five possible categories for how much budget information it made publicly available: scant to none.