In a cat-and-mouse game spiked with tea money, stall operators along Phnom Penh's
waterfront hustle to stay ahead of local authorities, running when they can get away
and paying when they can't.
At Hun Sen Park, in the shadows of the towering Naga Casino complex, hundreds of
stalls set up each evening and sell corn-on-the-cob and boiled eggs, or offer passers-by
a chance at simple betting games.
Lo Yuy, governor of Chamkar Mon district, says the stalls are illegal.
In practice, however, authorities are prepared to turn a blind eye - for a price.
Pen Ny, 47, operates a stall that awards modest prizes if players can pop balloons
The game is proving a hit, but like other "throwing balloon" operators,
Ny must pay daily bribes of 10,000 riel to the khan [district] authorities, 20,000
riel to the sangkat [commune], and between 500 and 2,000 riel for each of the 15
to 20 guards who patrol the gardens.
He used to make up to 80,000 riel profit per night. But because of an increase in
the number of stalls offering the popular game and the high bribes he must pay, he
now pockets about 20,000 riel.
"I do this business to earn a living for my family and not to be rich ... like
the big building of Naga Casino right there," Ny said. "... If I compare
my business to Naga Casino [they are] far [apart] like the sky and land."
Even for those who pay bribes, there is always the risk of a crackdown and confiscation
of their equipment. Ny narrowly avoided a bust just a few months ago.
"I collected my business materials and ran away before the authority's truck
arrived," Ny said.
But the results of the crackdown didn't last long. Ny quickly set up again and now
has six relatives working for him.
Yuy said the stalls were too messy for the gardens, which he said were meant to be
a resort-style area for people to sit and enjoy fresh air.
He warned of another crackdown soon but denied any knowledge of a system of unofficial
"I don't know which authorities are coming to demand money from people every
day at the garden," Yuy said. "I am very busy and cannot be aware of everything."
Some stall owners, however, are content to pay the bribes in order to do business.
Chan Srey Pov, 30, repeatedly asked authorities for permission to sell corn-on-the-cob
in Hun Sen Park and was finally given permission a month ago.
"Now they allow me to sell ... maybe because the police have no money,"
said Srey Pov, who pays between 5,000 and 8,000 riel to authorities each day for
her selling rights.
Like Ny, Srey Pov seems resigned to low level corruption as just a part of life.
"Nowadays, to have my career survive, I do not care how much I give to the authorities,
even on the days that I don't make a profit, I still pay," said Ny.