Cambodia has raised its defense budget by over 17 percent for 2016, according to a bill approved by the country’s legislature amid an opposition boycott.
Under the $4.6 billion national budget for 2016 approved by Cambodia’s National Assembly, defense spending was set at $383 million, more than a 17 percent increase from the 2015 figure and around 2 percent of GDP. Combined with the spending for internal security of $286.7 million, IHS Jane’s notes that the total defense and security allocation represents a year-on-year increase of 10 percent.
The hike continues a pattern of successive increases in military spending since Cambodia’s heated border confrontation with Thailand over the disputed Preah Vihear temple back in 2008. According to data from the renowned Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Cambodia’s military spending rose more than 56 percent between 2010 and 2014 alone.
Few further details beyond the aggregate sum were given on the defense budget, which is not surprising given longstanding concerns about the lack of transparency in Cambodia. This year, Transparency International, a London-based watchdog, gave Cambodia an “F” (the lowest possible rating) in its Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index (See: “Beware Asia’s Unchecked Military Power: Report”). “Oversight of defense spending is further limited by lack of public disclosure of the country’s defense budget,” the country report noted. It called for the government to publish more detailed information on expenditure across functions, the sources of defense income, and the asset disposal process to check corruption.
Defense Minister Tea Banh did tell reporters while leaving the Assembly session that the majority of the increase would be going toward staff and soldiers.
“Comprehensively checking the budget, I don’t see any growth in the defense sector,” he said according to The Cambodia Daily. “We will just mainly be increasing the salaries.”
Cambodian officials have long cited personnel salaries and benefits as a justification for hiking military spending amid criticism about the amount spent on defense relative to other areas, how the money is being spent, as well as the impact of what some fear is ‘militarization’ of the country. Back in 2008, the government had considered raising the overall budget to $500 million – a whopping 68 percent increase from the previous year – before backing down.
The budget was adopted by 66 lawmakers from the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) despite of a boycott from all opposition lawmakers. The National Assembly comprises 123 lawmakers – 68 from the CPP and 55 from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – and budget approval requires a majority vote, which translates to at least 63 votes.