Better collection methods have allowed the municipal govt to fill city coffers, but opposition says corruption rampant
Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A police officer demands a $1 payoff from a motorist in Phnom Penh Wednesday.
VEHICLE tax revenues in the capital for the first nine months of the year are 12.5 percent higher than annual projections, tax office officials said Wednesday, citing more efficient collection methods.
Opposition members, however, said the increase should be balanced against continued skimming and bribe-taking by police and tax officials
Om Cham, head of the Phnom Penh Tax Branch, said his office collected 18 billion riels (US$4.5 million) so far this year, while the office had expected only about 16 billion riels for all of 2008.
"This increase in vehicle tax revenue is the result of a better understanding of the law and more efficient tax payment options," Om Cham said.
"We expect to get two billion riels more in revenue from fines when the payment deadline expires on November 15," he added.
The Branch collected 15 billion riels in taxes and three billion riels in fines in 2007, Om Cham said. Phnom Penh has an estimated 80,000 automobiles and 220,000 motorbikes, according to tax office figures.
We expect to get two billion riels more in revenue from fines.
Tax rates vary depending on vehicle and engine size, Om Cham said, from 80,000 riels to one million riels for automobiles, and from 3,500 riels to 12,500 riels for motorbikes.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, however, told the Post that only about half of the due taxes had been collected due to corruption.
"Officials have not revealed the total amount collected. The country could double its tax revenue if the tax office was better managed," he said.
"In order to collect the required amount of tax, the office should not follow a plan they created and that corresponds to no system in use in any other country," he added.
Son Chhay said that tax officials often demand illegal fees when people pay their tax and that police collect bribes for violations, which also deprives the government of revenue.
But Om Cham said the law does not force drivers to pay extra fees and that motorists paying bribes were breaking the law.
"We have never received any evidence regarding officials taking extra fees from people," Om Cham said.
"It is a problem of certain individuals who pay extra fees, not the tax officials." He encouraged vehicle owners to report cases of illegal fees to the tax office.
"We haven't brought any legal cases because there have only been minor instances of illegal fees," he said.
Sek Borisoth, head of the anti-corruption group PACT Cambodia, said bribes have become commonplace.
"No one wants to pay extra money ... but it is a problem people face when they pay their taxes in order to get their paperwork processed more quickly," he said.