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Cambodia's Draft 2020 Budget Shows Significant Increase in Defense Spending

In this file photo taken on June 23, 2010, A Cambodian army soldier looks at Chinese military vehicles displayed before a handover ceremony at a military airbase in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The government draft 2020 budget released recently shows an increase in national security and defense spending, accounting for more than a quarter of all government spending next year.

According to the draft of the budget, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on October 25, the government will spend $8.2 billion next year, a significant 22 percent increase from the $6.7 billion it had earmarked for 2019.

While defense spending accounted for 25.8 percent of the budget, spending on social areas, such as healthcare and education services, accounted for 37 percent of the budget. Both education and healthcare standards in Cambodia are critically low and in need of reforms and investment.

While public schools provide a low quality of education and are rife with corruption, medical facilities are severely under resourced, forcing many Cambodians to choose the expensive alternative of travelling to Thailand or Vietnam to get treatment. However, wealthy Cambodians, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, routinely travel overseas for medical checkups and procedures.

Yong Kim Eng, president of People Center for Development and Peace, said on Monday that the increasing expenditure on the military would not help the economy reach the government’s own target of being upper middle-income in 2030 and a high-income country in 2050.

He added that increased expenditure and quick reforms were needed in the education sector, which would be able to bolster the economy.

“We have to enhance the quality of teachers and the quality of students studying in the classes, making whatever to push up quick reforms in this circumstance,” Yong Kim Eng said.

Yong Kim Eng noted that the general public had no confidence in local medical services, forcing them to seek medical treatments in Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian government, could not be reached for comment on Monday. Sok Eysan, a senator and spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), declined to comment on the draft because he hadn’t read it.

Asked about the need for better medical services in the country, Sok Eysan seemed to suggest that questioning people’s decision to travel overseas for treatment was akin to curbing their rights.

“Why do we have to talk about who goes to the east and who goes to the west to see doctors?” Sok Eysan said. “This is a way of restricting the rights of others.”

“I think it is biased to attack the quality of health services in the country.”