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Guidelines to tackle extortion

Workers perform checks and pack finished products at a food factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh
Workers perform checks and pack finished products at a food factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Guidelines to tackle extortion

The government will introduce guidelines detailing inspection requirements in a bid to clamp down on corruption in the small- and medium-sized enterprise sector.

Speaking to dozens of SME industry representatives at a public-private sector forum in Phnom Penh yesterday, Industry and Handicrafts Minister Cham Prasidh said that his office was preparing an Inspection Guidebook to ensure SMEs were clear on the laws regarding government inspections and to help prevent extortion attempts by corrupt inspectors.

“Most of our SMEs still have very limited knowledge regarding the laws and regulations of operating a business. This guidebook will help them understand authorities’ role in inspections, while SMEs can also inspect themselves to ensure they are abiding by the law,” Prasidh said.

The guidelines – which will cover a range of inspections, from food hygiene to health and safety – are expected to be finalised in the next two months and will be publicly available on the ministry’s website, Prasidh said.

Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, Orn Sidana, a seed and pesticide importer and SME representative, said the initiative was long overdue as Cambodian businesses had long been hampered by corruption.

“Some inspectors even ask me to pay for them monthly so I can avoid being inspected by them. They come and ask for many documents about my business when it is not in their authority at all,” she said.

“I give out an envelope to get rid of the headaches. What else can I do? I don’t want to waste my time and I do not know what will happen to my business if I do not give out money.”

Te Taing Por, president of the Federation of Associations for Small and Medium Enterprises of Cambodia, welcomed the guidebook.

“It will save time for both the authorities and the private sector. It will also reduce corruption,” he said.

However, more still needs to be done to curb informal payments, Por said, urging the government to establish a working group so that SMEs can provide details of extortion attempts.

In the absence of an effective monitoring system, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party chief whip Son Chhay was sceptical about just how much of an impact the guidelines could have.

“What matters is who is there for SMEs to complain to when there is a case of unauthorised inspection,” Chhay said.

“The government has been giving a lot of concessions to large industry, but fewer to the small businesses that give jobs to more than three million Cambodians.”

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