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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sign tax angers business owners

Sign tax angers business owners

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090129_07_2.jpg

Private company's collection of signage fee in Siem Reap seen as arbitrary and unfair

Photo by:

Kyle Sherer

Yin Sam, owner of the Khemasak Nokor Printing Shop.

SIEM REAP
SIEM Reap business owners are riled about a controversial new sign tax, and their protests have forced the provincial government to hold emergency meetings to rethink the issue.

Many businesses refused to pay the private company contracted by the provincial governor's office to collect the new charges, which come on top of a sign tax all Siem Reap businesses already pay when they renew their business licences. One Wat Bo businessman dismantled his large office sign rather than pay the fee, he said.

Businesses saw the new sign tax as a form of double-dipping and objected to a private company, Modern Printing Design (MPD), being contracted to police the measure.

MPD representatives also acted thuggishly in their collection of fees, and at first furnished no identification, just figures written on scraps of paper, and demanded instant payment, businesses say.

Residents first became aware of the tax in mid-November 2008, when MPD staff began measuring signs and demanding payment, telling some businesses that the fee was calculated at US$20 per square metre of signage.

Following outraged complaints, MPD staff acquired some legitimate paperwork, including staff identity cards, business cards and professional invoices.

Petition circulated

The Post contacted the provincial government office and was informed that MPD was acting on its behalf.

In early December, a petition was circulated in opposition to  the tax, and on December 18 Rasmey Kampuchea published advice from the Siem Reap government office that referred to a "second letter" issued by the office authorising MPD to collect the taxes.

In the same article, a government tax office employee said the business sign tax was not related to the tax office, and requested that the letter be rescinded.

By mid-January, the petition against this tax had grown to over 300 signatures, and now business owners claim their actions have forced the government to consider a drastic softening of the levy. But MPD staff are reportedly continuing to collect payment despite the provincial government's promise to suspend the fees.

Yin Sam, owner of the Khemasak Nokor Printing Shop, claims the sign tax has caused him to lose about 40 percent of his clients.  "It has really affected my business. In many cases, the tax that the MPD charged is almost the same as the cost of printing the sign, doubling the cost for business owners."

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