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Monday, August 16, 2010

Vehicle Taxes Lucrative for Corrupt Officials: Group

There are more than 2.5 million vehicles registered n Cambodia and if tax collectors take only 2000 riel, or $ 0.50 in bribe per vehicle, those figures start to add up.

A watchdog organization says the Ministry of Economy and Finance's tax collectors are bilking the country out of at least a million dollars a year by overcharging for annual vehicle stickers.

There are more than 2.5 million vehicles registered in Cambodia, and if tax collectors take only 2,000 riel, or about $0.50, in bribers per vehicle, those figures start to add up. And annually. Vehicle owners are supposed to pay for an annual registration sticker in order to drive.

“The majority of vehicle owners are forced to pay extra money during the annual tax collection,” Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democratic of Informal Economic Association, or IDEA, told reporters Monday.

The costs set by the tax collection officials go against the ministry where they work, he added.

“Tax agents forced me to pay 6,000 riel [about $1.50], instead of the state price of 4,500 riel,” Ly Sao, a 37-year-old motorcycle taxi driver in Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer. “I was very disappointed by this payment, because the tax agents demanded extra money.”

“That extra money affects my daily living, because my business as a driver is now very difficult,” he said, blaming the economic downturn on lost fares. “In a day I earn only 30,000 riel [about $7], to supply my family and for my two children at school. So the extra pay sinks my living.”

Var Sanith, a 35-year-old cane juice and bread vender in the capital's Chamkarmon district, said he wasn't hurt badly by paying the extra money, “but it is an illegal act.”

“I have a bad feeling about it, because it is a bad habit that hurts Cambodian society's prestige,” he said. “We should eliminate this bad thing.”

Sok Vong, a truck driver, said he gets hit with an annual tax, plus extra fees to the tax office, plus demands from police as he drives on the road.

“If I do not pay them, they won't allow me to go ahead,” he said. “Both cases dominate my daily living.”

The fresh accusations of corruption came after the tax collection department of the Ministry of Finance issued a notice last week, saying vehicle owners would only be required to pay taxes according to a vehicle tax table.

People who have been asked for more money than appears on the table are encouraged to take down the agent's ID number and report him or her. San Chey, a member of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said the public can use a hotline to report corrupt tax agents, by calling 017 559 122.
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ASEAN secretary general hopes Cambodia-Thai border dispute to peacefully end

(Xinhua) - After a brief meeting with Cambodia's foreign minister on Monday, Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said he hoped a border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand will "end peacefully".

Surin Pitsuwan made nearly an hour-meeting on Monday with Hor Namhong, Cambodia's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation and soon after the meeting he told reporters that he hoped the border dispute will "end peacefully."

Surin is leading a 30-member delegation of Muslim people to Cambodia for strengthening relations and to attend an ASEAN forum on disaster management, while at the same time, he takes the opportunities to meet with Cambodian leaders, according to Koy Kuong, spokesman of Foreign Ministry.

Koy Kuong said Surin will later in the day meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen before he will leave the country on Tuesday.

Surin arrived in Cambodia on Sunday.

Hor Namhong told reporters after the meeting with Sorin that Cambodia is committed to solve the border problem peacefully, but reserves its right to protect its own territory once invades by a foreign country.

The border conflict came just one week after Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple was registered as World Heritage Site in July 2008.

Last Saturday, Hor Namhong sent a letter to Pham Gia Khiem, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Vietnam, who is the current chair of ASEAN to mediate Cambodia's border dispute with Thailand.

In his letter, Hor said "until now, Cambodia has exercised utmost restrain and attempted to find a peaceful solution to the problem bilaterally, but to no avail."

"As the current stalemate has extinguished any hope on further bilateral negotiations and in order to avoid any large scale armed conflict..., I earnestly seek Your Excellency's assistance, as chair of ASEAN, to mediate on the matter under the ASEAN framework ... ," Hor said.

The Cambodia-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, and Thailand continues to stake territorial claims of the 4.6 square kilometer area in the vicinity of the Temple of Preah Vihear.

Cambodia insisted the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia, citing the adjudication of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on June 15, 1962.

ASEAN groups 10 countries including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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