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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cambodan network warned over mobile money service

­The National Bank of Cambodia has warned that it will take action after local mobile network, Mobitel launched a mobile banking service without applying for permission from the Central Bank. The Central Bank issued a ruling in August that it must oversee credit remittances - which it says includes the money transfer services provided by mobile networks.

Mobitel's Cellcard Cash service was launched on September 20 without the filing of an application, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The money transfer service is backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Central Bank director general Tal Nay Im declined to comment on what action the central bank was considering, she did not rule out legal action against the mobile network operator.
"I cannot tell you yet [what action we will take], but we have to do something," she said.

Mobitel Chief Executive Officer David Spriggs declined to comment on the issue, but operations manager Kay Lot has said that the company did not consider mobile-money transfers to be banking.

On the web: Phnom Penh Post
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In Wake of Complaints, City Agents Charge Correct Tax

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.

As the deadline for annual vehicle taxes approaches, tax agents in Phnom Penh appear to be avoiding the kind of overcharges that led to a flurry of complaints last month.

In a bundle of 90 complaints sent to the newfound Anti-Corruption Unit, 2,700 people complained they were being overcharged at tax collection sites across the country.

But at 15 sites around Phnom Penh this week, tax agents were charging the standard amount set by the Ministry of Finance, while avoiding unofficial surcharges.

“I paid for tags for two motorcycles according to the price on the invoice,” said Chea Bora, a 30-year-old resident of Phnom Penh's Prampi Makara district. His Chaly cost 3,500 riel, about $0.80, for a vehicle tag, and his more expensive Fino cost 4,500 riel, about $1.07.

“The tax agents didn't overcharge me,” he said.

Ly Vanny, a tax agent in the capital's Chamkar Mon district, said accusations of overcharging did not apply to her.

“We respect the price table of the Ministry of Economy and Finance's general tax department,” she said. “We want the process of vehicle tax collection to have transparency and effectiveness for both tax agents and tax payers.”

Nevertheless, in complaints filed with the ACU by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, Cambodians said they were being overcharged for their annual tags. The ACU has said it is considering the complaints for possible investigation.

Om John, deputy chief of the Finance Ministry's tax department, said agents have been counseled not to over charge, though they do not always comply. Still, he said, overcharging has been reduced.

The deadline for vehicle tax is Oct. 20, and as the deadline approaches, people outside of Phnom Penh say they are being forced to overpay. Sometimes they are asked to pay extra for the forms, or for pens, they said.

“I almost lost my temper, because the government staff are supposed to work to serve the interests of the people,” said Thon Saroeun, 38, who lives in Siem Reap province. The set fee for tax on his CRV car is 100,000 riel, or $25, he said. But agents charged him an extra 5,000 riel.

“It affects my own feelings, when tax agents illegally take money,” he said. “Five thousand riel is not so much, but many people pay the overcharge. I feel bad paying the overcharge because the money comes from my own labor.”

“The agents look down on the law,” said Keo Soeun, a 65-year-old farmer from Svay Rieng province. He said he was overcharged 1,500 riel, around $0.40, for his vehicle tax. “I earn less than $1 per day, and I can spend 1,500 riel to buy salt, prahok [fish paste] and fish sauce to eat for three days.”

Pang Sameth, a 47-year-old motorcycle taxi driver in Preah Sihanouk province, said overcharging for government services has worsened his living conditions. He earns about $2 a day and supports a family of three children.

“I want the government and the Anti-Corruption Unit to take strong action against corruption,” he said. “If the tax agents continue to overcharge, it affects the legal system, the state regime and the system of government and administration,” he said. “The overcharging hurts my feelings, my spirit and my daily living.”
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Illegal migrant workers await decision in Malaysia

Cambodian officials have said that four women caught working illegally in Malaysia might be allowed to stay in the country, a decision that a Malaysian official said would contravene immigration laws.

Unt Vantha, second secretary at the Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, said embassy officials interviewed four women on Monday after they were caught working as domestic aids while staying in the country on a social visit visa.

He said the case – which was originally investigated by the Cambodian Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department following a complaint filed by the parents of the four women – was not being treated as one of human trafficking because the women reported that they had willingly gone to Malaysia.

“They told us that they are OK,” he said. “They said they work with a kind employer.”

He said it was possible the four women would be allowed to continue working in Malaysia.

“We reported the case to our government, and now we are waiting for instructions from our government [regarding] whether we should send them back or not,” he said.

In the meantime, he said, the four women and their employers would apply for work visas.

Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, minister counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh, said he had not yet received information about the case, but that illegal workers would not normally be allowed to stay in Malaysia.

He said Cambodians could stay in Malaysia for 30 days on a social visit visa, but would be detained and sent to court if caught working without a permit during this time.
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Parliamentary Group Seeks Solution to Sam Rainsy Cases

A group of European parliamentarians says charges brought in Cambodia against opposition leader Sam Rainsy are more political than criminal.

The Inter-Parliamentarian Union issued a resolution this month calling on Cambodian authorities to “explore ways and means of resolving the issues at hand through political dialogue.”

Sam Rainsy, who is in exile abroad, is facing a 12-year jail sentence in two cases, for uprooting markers along the Vietnamese border and for posting a map on his party's website the government says falsely alleges Vietnamese border encroachment.

The Appeals Court this week upheld a guilty verdict in Sam Rainsy's border marker case, which carries a two-year sentence for destruction of property and incitement.

The IPU called on the government to “enable Mr. Sam Rainsy to resume his parliamentary activities as rapidly as possible.”

Government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have said the cases belong to the courts and will not be discussed beyond them.

The IPU said in its Oct. 6 resolution the cases “never should have been brought before the courts, but resolved at the political level.”

As a result of the charges, Sam Rainsy has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity. Meanwhile, his party and others must now prepare for commune elections in 2012 and national elections the following year.

The IPU said it was “particularly alarmed that, if upheld, this verdict would bar Mr. Sam Rainsy from standing in the 2013 parliamentary elections.”

The verdict would also have “consequences far beyond Mr. Sam Rainsy's case, as it is bound to affect the opposition,” the IPU said, calling recent prosecutions of other opposition supporters a narrowing of the political space and detrimental to the democratic process.

Cheam Yiep, a senior Cambodian People's Party lawmaker, said Sam Rainsy had broken the law and should face the legal ramifications.

“What they have raised as a resolution of the IPU, I cannot accept it as a parliamentarian of Cambodia,” he said, and he accused the IPU of “listening to the minority.”

The Sam Rainsy Party holds 26 of 123 National Assembly seats, compared to the CPP's 90.

“So they are paying attention only to 26 seats,” he said.

The IPU resolution calls for close monitoring of the developments of Sam Rainsy's legal cases.
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Immigration Reform Bill Could Lessen Deportations: Group

The US has expelled more than 200 Cambodians under the law since 2001, when Cambodia signed an agreement to take back deportees.

A new immigration bill already drafted in Congress could reduce the number of Cambodians deported from the US, supporters say.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, which has the backing of a number of groups, including Cambodian, still needs more support, Sinuon Hem, director of the Asian Pacific Islanders Youth Program, told VOA Khmer.

“We should push congressmen from the Republicans to help sponsor it,” she said from Seattle, Wash.

Passage of the bill would reduce Cambodians on a deportation list under immigration laws, she said. Currently, the list is 1,400 Cambodians long, many of whom have already served jail time and have the potential of becoming good US citizens, she said.

Deportation of some US-Cambodians under the law have met with opposition from the Cambodian-American communities. So far 230 people have been deported. Five of them were sent in September.

Daravuth Huot, the Cambodian consular in Seattle, said he has received requests for more information about deportation procedures, but he encouraged people who are concerned to seek legal counsel.
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