More than thirty representatives from sector NGOs/CSOs working on budget issues met and attended to different presentations on budget monitoring and access to information in various sectors such as Education, Health, Extractive Industry and Gender. The one-day workshop, held on 14 September at Phnom Penh Hotel by NGO Forum on Cambodia brought an opportunity to sector NGOs in Cambodia and the International Budget Partnership (IBP) to share experience on access to budget information and budget advocacy, and to comprehensively discuss on advocacy strategies to effectively address budget transparency issues within the sectors.
In Cambodia, as in most developing countries, budget transparency is critically challenged by the lack of budget information, and understanding among the general public and NGOs/CSOs on budget process and contents. In 2010 the Open Budget Survey (OBS) ranked Cambodia among the countries that provide the public with scant information on the central government’s financial activities, failing to publish three of the seven key budget documents she has produced—the draft budget laws, mid-year reviews and audit reports. These documents are either unpublished, or published irregularly and too late to be useful for monitoring purposes. Limited ability of the general public, and especially the NGOs/CSOs, to understand the budget process and issues remains another critical challenge hindering the push for more budget transparency in Cambodia. This makes it difficult to influence change in the budget process. The limitation deprives the citizens and NGOs/CSOs of the means by which they can use, and sufficient capacity to influence development priorities of the government, monitor her financial performance, and hold the government accountable for the management of the public fund.
Speaking at the workshop, Mr. Chhith Sam Ath, Executive Director of the NGOF stressed that budget transparency is a key principle to manage the public financial system, referring especially to the 2008 Law on Public Finance System and the government’s Public Financial Management Reform Program. He also appreciated significant improvement Cambodia has achieved thus far in releasing more budget documents to the public, while noted the need for further improvement in ensuring budget transparency, and for CSOs to improve their knowledge on budget issues and skills in budget monitoring. In addressing capacity limitations, the NGO Forum has played a major role to provide different capacity building to sector NGOs through training workshops, with a belief that once the public and CSOs become well aware of the national budget process and issues, they would be able to participate effectively and constructively in the national budget process.
Mr. Hav Ratanak, Deputy Director of Budget Department of the Ministry of Economic and Finance, who was invited as a guest speaker at the workshop, provided a comprehensive presentation on how the national budget is prepared, along with associated regulatory framework, which stimulated significant interest and questions from participating sector NGOs.
Presenting at the workshop were also representatives from certain sector NGOs already involved in budget advocacy, i.e. Mr. In Samrithy, Executive Director of NGO Education Partnership who talked about Education budgeting, Mr. Timothy Johnston, Team Leader for Health from the World Bank, who shared findings from the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) in Health Sector, Mr. Chhay Sarath, Executive Director of Cambodia for Resource Revenue Transparency (CRRT), who presented on access to budget information in Extractive Industry, and Ms. Ros Sopheap, Executive Director of Gender and Development (GAD/C), who kindly shared to the workshop the importance of and issues around gender budgeting.
The workshop was also made possible with the presence of a resource person from the IBP, Mr. Bashirullah Najimi, who presented and shared with all sector NGOs international experience on access to budget information, and led a strategic discussion to enable them to reflect on practical local and international experience they can adopt for their budget advocacy work.