Bribing officials is a common means of fast-tracking license plate applications, but one that adds to delays for those unwilling to pay up.
As Phnom Penh traffic authorities crack down on unlicensed vehicles, motorists have flocked to apply for new license plates, fueling a black market for fresh plates run by freelance "brokers" and corrupt officials from the Phnom Penh Municipal Department of Public Works and Transport (MPWT).
"If you pay $32.50, your bike will have a new license plate within an hour," a young broker, who identified himself only as Ra, told the Post.
Motortaxi driver Seng Vuthy, 52, said that a similar license broker demanded $30 for "paperwork" pertaining to his motorbike license, but after refusing to pay it took him two months to organize a set of plates on his own.
"To do all the paperwork for the license plate myself was very difficult... [and] the officials strictly scrutinized the paperwork," he said, "But it is much easier through a broker. You just pay double the fee and you get your application accepted instantly."
According to Vuthy, the corruption is a result of neglect from the higher authorities in the department.
"The superiors are giving a clear chance for low-level officials to engage in corruption," he said. "This is unfair to all the people, especially for the poor."
Kong Chetra, general director of Radio FM 93.5, said he paid $45 to a broker to expedite his motorbike registration because it guaranteed him quick service.
"The law requires that we pay roughly $15 for each plate number, but officials have conspired with the brokers to set a price of $30 to $45 for instant license plates. I only waited about an hour to get my plates," he said.
Kim Pagna, executive director of local NGO the Coalition for Road Safety, said the practice is a blatant case of corruption that the MPWT should seriously investigate.
"It is unjust.... It should be first come, first serve, not double money gets in first," said Pagna.
During a national conference at the MPWT on May 8, Prime Minister Hun Sen told the audience that the current three- to six-month wait for license plates was unacceptable and that the MPWT must move to quicken the process, especially with the number of vehicles on Cambodian roads expected to continue skyrocketing in coming years.
There are currently an estimated 197,800 cars and 671,000 motorbikes in Cambodia.
The prime minister also recommended that vehicle sellers attach the plate at the point of sale.
"To facilitate the buying and selling of motorbikes and cars, buyers should instantly get an interim plate number when purchasing the vehicles," Hun Sen said. "This will make both the buyers and the sellers happy."
Nhem Saran, director of the MPWT, told the Post he supported the prime minister's recommendation, but he conceded the limited swiftness with which applications can be processed.
He said that about 70-80 cars and 500-600 motorbikes were applying for license plates each day, adding that this was beyond the capacity of his department.
The MPWT is able to issue a roughly equal number of car plates a day, but it is falling behind on motorcycle applications, licensing only 300 to 400 a day.
Saran acknowledged that the rich and powerful get their license plates faster than most people, for whom there will continue to be a three- to six-month wait.
But he also warned that MPWT officials colluding with license plate brokers will be fired.
"I have held many meetings to warn my officials about this irregularity, and if I find that anyone is involved in this act, I will dismiss them," Saran said.
"We have also posted announcements informing the public not to apply for plates via the brokers. I also asked the local authorities to drive [them] away, not to let them associate with the department," he added. "Otherwise, they will conspire with corrupt officials."