The government has set a 60-day deadline for the customs department to clean up corruption within the department, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed yesterday.
Siphan said when the government prepared the 2014 national budget in a meeting at the end of last month, they discussed reforms in the General Department of Customs and Excise to ensure greater transparency and accountability of national revenue.
Improvements have already been made, according to Siphan, with customs officers adhering to official costs.
Pen Sam Ath, senior official at the customs department, said yesterday that he was not authorised to reveal details of the planned reforms, but that a draft has been completed.
“As far as I know, the action plan and operation plan are already drafted [by the Ministry of Economy and Finance],” Sam Ath said.
The ministry could not be reached for comment.
Xinhua reported on Wednesday that Cambodian customs officials called on importers to pay fees as stated by law rather than looking to bribe customs officers, after complaints by Chinese importers about increased tariffs.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia said it’s not confined to Chinese importers, but “all different neighbouring countries, it could be from ... China, it could be from Vietnam, it could be from Thailand.”
“Corruption in the taxation and customs sector is also an issue that needs to be tackled,” he said, adding that “a lot of money” is lost through corruption in both areas.
Asked about the two month deadline, he said he has not heard anything concrete about it but in general, “I think it indicates a matter of emergency, a matter of urgency that [Prime Minister Hun Sen] realises that the people now demand strongly that the government take action against corrupt officials.”
But Kol warned that little would be done without action or steps to help bring the area into compliance. Kol suggested an electronic system that records income or using a video camera at checkpoints.
Song Saran, president of rice exporting company Amru Rice Cambodia, said that unofficial payments to export the rice is still a problem which hinders the exporting potential of the country. “[I need to pay] customs officers, economic police, and CAMCONTROL officers [unofficial payments] and that is making production costs higher. That is our difficulty to compete with other countries.”
According to data from the Ministry of Commerce, total exports of Cambodian products is valued at $5.2 billion in the first nine months of this year, a 26 per cent increase compared to $4.1 billion in the same period last year. In terms of imports, the country spent about $6.8 billion in the first nine months of this year, an increase 13 per cent from $6 billion in the same period last year.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY KUNMAKARA