The first draft of a new law regulating the Department of Customs and Excise
(DCE) went to a private sector working group chaired by Minister of Economy and
Finance Keat Chhon for consultation June 19.
The law is designed to
reform the DCE and ensure Cambodia's practices for importing and exporting
measure up to international standards.
The law was drawn up with
assistance from the International Monetary Fund, and the government hopes it
will be approved by the National Assembly by the end of the year.
have a major reform program underway, and I think we're making good progress,"
said Bill LeDrew, the IMF's resident customs advisor. "It's not an overnight
The DCE's deputy director, Kun Nhem, said the objective was to
create a modern customs office. Among the numerous planned changes are an
automated clearance system to replace the current manual process, as well as
technical and management training.
One of the more unusual pieces of the
legislation is that customs officers will have to take an oath to abide by a new
code of conduct. The current system is acknowledged as profoundly
To help smooth the path towards honesty, monthly salaries for
customs officers were recently boosted from $20 to $38. One insider said that
some officers in the port city of Sihanoukville were earning up to $2,000 a
month in kickbacks.
A facilitator for a local NGO wishing to go by the
name Marin has experience of dealing with customs. In June he had to deal with
an increased bribe demand from a facilitator inside the Ministry of Health he
hired to help clear equipment through airport customs.
official told him the usual customs' bribe of $100 was now insufficient, and he
needed $150. Marin said his NGO could not afford that, which meant he would have
to spend two weeks and $70 in 'tea money' to get the job
"Management doesn't exist," he said. "Corruption exists. It's only
corruption, there's no such thing as management."
One customs clearance
agent, who works at Pochentong Airport for a transport company and wished to
remain anonymous, said it was normal to pay money to Cambodian customs
"I think all customs officers are corrupt," he said. "They
want money from other people to go into their pockets."
approximately $10 per ton in tea money, and said registering to get an "item
number", which is essential to identify a recently arrived product, is the most
difficult part of his job.
"Sometimes it takes me a whole day to get a
shipment," he said.
He observed some officers wearing diamond watches,
while certain female staff had diamond bracelets and rings. Most, he added,
drive cars that are unaffordable on their official salaries.
An, chief of personnel and administration at Pochentong's customs office, said
he didn't "let customs officers do anything wrong". He said the reforms were
necessary to streamline customs and help suppress smuggling, but progress went
"step by step".
Sam An's "policy is to make it quick and collect [tax]
revenue", but he said the process was sometimes slowed by the "consignee or
owner who doesn't know how to fill out forms".
While waiting to speak to
Sam An at Pochentong Cargo Terminal, the Post observed clearance staff giving
dollars from wads of money to customs agents, who swept the cash into desk
drawers as they signed and stamped forms.
Marin asserted this was the
process of paying "tea money", $5 for each customs item number, a charge Sam An
"Customs brokers, or sometimes customers, don't know how
to fill out forms," said Sam An, "so they pay customs officers or someone else
because they are grateful to the officers for helping.
"If you ask all
clients who come to declare here, I help them very quickly. They never get asked
for money," he said. "Maybe they're paying back for something."
the duty of customs was to collect revenue for the government, but felt people
"blame corruption when customs officers are [actually] collecting
The IMF's LeDrew speculated the payments the Post saw could have
possibly been legitimate 15,000 riel payments for customs declaration forms, but
added that "everyone acknowledges" integrity in customs was an issue.