Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday voiced his displeasure with the rampant corruption present in the Kingdom’s land sector, issuing a veiled warning to citizens who forge receipts in order to dodge property taxes.
During his annual review of the country’s public financial management reform program in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen raised the issue by recounting a story about his uncle’s alleged financial misdeeds in Preah Sihanouk province. Apparently, Hun Sen’s relative reported on his tax form a 1-hectare plot of land worth some $40,000, but wrote that it was valued at only 45 million riel, about $11,000, in order to avoid paying proper taxes.
“I asked him why, and he said, ‘This way, we pay less tax,’” the premier said. “I said, ‘You are stealing the tax and are in cahoots with the Preah Sihanouk tax officers.’”
Though Hun Sen acknowledged that his uncle cheated the government for roughly 75 per cent of the actual tax owed, he admitted that he did not ask who had assisted him and had no intention of punishing those involved.
“I did not ask,” he said. “I will ask when I go back.”
He added that the tale was meant to highlight just how ubiquitous such practices are in the country.
“We do not need to increase taxes – [we need] to collect all taxes,” he said. “This is what I’ve seen with my own eyes.”
According to a report by the General Department of Taxation, the government took in $323 million in tax revenue during the first quarter of 2015, marking a 48 per cent increase compared with the same period last year.
Transparency International Cambodia president Preap Kol acknowledged that tax fraud is a common occurrence among both officials and civilians in the Kingdom but noted that those involved shouldn’t be let off the hook.
“The move [drains] national budgets,” he said. “In order to prevent it, we must take action and punish them . . . [Officials] must be audited by internal inspections or by an independent group.”
The NGO found in 2014 that Cambodia was the tied with Myanmar as the most corrupt country in the region. In its Youth Integrity Survey, TI Cambodia found that “many” citizens were willing to engage in corruption to help themselves or their friends and family.
Kong Vibol, the director general of the General Department of Taxation, could not be reached for comment yesterday.