Finance Ministry Budget Spikes in Reshuffled State Spending

4 min read
An aerial view of the Ministry of Economy and Finance posted to its Facebook page.
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The Finance Ministry has been given a sixfold increase in its budget this year that spokespeople explained broadly as a reallocation of unclassified spending, raising concerns over a lack of transparency in national expenditures.

According to the Finance Ministry’s executive summary of the 2023 national budget, Cambodia’s state expenditures are slated to rise from $8.7 billion to $9.8 billion, or 13%, while revenues are expected to increase from $8.2 billion to $9.2 billion, or 12.5%.

Amid the broader increase, the Finance Ministry’s allocation is spiking from $116 million to $789 million. Neither the executive summary nor full budget law document listed any breakdowns for the expenditure.

Meas Soksensan, spokesperson of the Finance Ministry, said the increase reflected how some budget items previously funded by unclassified expenses had been given directly to the ministry to spend on “certain programs it is controlling.” Soksensan would not say which programs this applied to.

Unclassified expenditures remain the biggest category of spending the national budget at $2.85 billion, or about 29% of the total. It is largely allocated for subnational spending, additional support for health and education, investments and unexpected expenses.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the Finance Ministry was seeing a budget increase because it needed money to spend on investment projects, but he did not say what the projects were.

Im Norin, program director at Transparency International Cambodia, said it was a concern for the public if the Finance Ministry did not show clearly what its expenses were for. 

“If there is not enough information regarding the expense, it concerns us. Because we do not know if the money will be used in the right way and serve the public interest,” Norin said.

Elsewhere in the budget, expenditures edged up in most cases but fell significantly for the interior, health and mines and energy ministries.

The Finance Ministry’s Soksensan said the government’s priorities remained education, public health and cash support for vulnerable people.

Siphan, the government spokesman, said this year’s budget is aimed at helping the economy bounce back from the Covid-19 period. Human development and digital integration were the top priorities, he said.

“We are moving into a digital society. So I think the Telecommunications Ministry will keep increasing its budget to allow them to build a supportive digital system for the public,” Siphan said.

The Health Ministry’s budget is dropping from $722 million to $509 million as Covid-19 expenditures wane, while the Interior Ministry is seeing its expenditures fall from $523 million to $460 million. The Mines and Energy Ministry’s budget is almost halving, from $211 million dollars to $116 million.

Siphan said the Energy Ministry did not currently have many investment projects, so its staff salaries and administration costs would drop.

Heng Kunleang, director general of the Energy Ministry’s energy department, said he could not provide information about the budget. Cheap Sour, directory of the petroleum department, said he was busy and could not answer questions. Health Ministry spokesperson Yok Sambath also said she was too busy to comment.

San Chey, director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the government needed to watch its budget deficit and public debt levels, while also calling for more transparency.

“The public expense of each ministry/committee should also be more open to the public for the effective expense,” Chey said.

Ministry20222023% inc. or dec.
Royal Palace19.4721.4710.27
National Assembly43.5147.779.79
Constitutional Council3.123.7520.19
Council of Ministers116.1120.513.8
Council for Development of Cambodia2.843.2414.08
Ministry of National Assembly Senate Relations and Inspection9.8111.2514.68
Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation39.5142.026.35
Economy and Finance116.46789.08577.55
Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction34.1849.5344.91
National Election Committee69.0175.058.75
National Audit Authority3.073.4612.7
Anti-Corruption Unit10.4612.1115.77
Civil Services13.7216.5720.77
National Defense632.4686.398.54
Education, Youth and Sports845.66894.915.82
Culture and Fine Arts41.0343.846.85
Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation356.52367.213.00
Cults and Religions16.217.336.98
Women’s Affairs10.7611.567.43
Labour and Vocational Training70.1495.9836.84
State Secretariat of Civil Aviation10.513.4728.29
Mines and Energy211.16116.45-44.85
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries112.84162.5644.06
Rural Development210.1255.9421.82
Public Works and Transport631.19680.267.77
Water Resources and Meteorology172.4719211.44
Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation149.87145.23-3.10
Total (excl. unclassified)5,458.786,189.44+13.39
*In millions of USD

Clarification: An earlier version of this article left out a paragraph about the overall budget increase.

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