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Border officials ‘charging too much’

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Cambodian workers cross the border into Thailand at Daung International Checkpoint in Battambang province’s Kamrieng district on April 23, 2016. Heng Chivoan

Border officials ‘charging too much’

Officials at the Poipet International Border Checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province have drawn widespread criticism for allegedly charging exorbitant customs fees from people, traders and porters who travel or transport goods across the Thai border.

Som Rein, a porter at the border checkpoint, told The Post on Sunday that officials had charged higher customs fees than legally required. Failing to comply, he claimed, would result in the goods getting stuck.

“They charge us too much and we can’t afford it. I have a few children in my care; I can hardly make ends meet. Both Cambodian and Thai customs officials charge us too much. Sometimes I just let the goods get stuck there,” he said.

Some have taken to social media, with a Facebook user accusing officials of making a fortune on the back of the poor.

“At Poipet [border checkpoint], they charged 100,000 riel [$25] for two [small] mattresses! That’s why they can afford luxury cars [on meagre salaries]. Customs officials told us to leave our goods there if we can’t afford the fees . . . They still kept me waiting even after I paid the fees."

“It’s OK for me but I pity porters who need their carts and goods to transport for a living,” wrote a user under the name Kito Bong.

Khem Chetra, the immigration police bureau chief at the border checkpoint, declined to comment on Sunday. But he recently addressed a press conference claiming officials charge residents only 100 riel for paperwork for each pass.

Problem persisted for years

Sum Chankea, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the corruption issue at the border checkpoint has persisted for years.

He dismissed Chetra’s claims of only 100 riel paperwork fee as unreasonable, saying residents are generally charged no less than 100 Thai baht ($3.15) for each pass.

Chankea urged the government to eliminate alleged systemic corruption at the local level, where higher-ranking officials allegedly make their subordinates pay regular bribes to maintain their posts.

“Corrupt officials are increasingly worried now after the prime minister started taking tougher measures against graft and inefficiency. To eliminate corruption, officials themselves must refrain from graft."

“And higher-level officials need to stop extorting [bribes from] their subordinates. If they are to remove corrupt officials, they must do it across the board,” he said.

Din Puthy, the president of the Informal Economy Reinforced Association, said that generally there was no policy requiring such fees, which he said would wind up in the pockets of corrupt border officials.

“I’ve seen it all. Every border checkpoint [official] charges exorbitant fees, sometimes without any paperwork [such as receipts]. It’s a crime because people would not be allowed to cross [the border] if they can’t afford it,” he said.

Both Chankea and Puthy appealed for an investigation into corruption at all border checkpoints and relevant institutions to lift the burden off the poor.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday renewed his calls for good governance through sweeping reforms. He threatened to dismiss officials who fail to follow.

“No matter who they are – be they tigers, snakes, rats or flies – if they take advantage of the people for personal gain they will be punished,” he said, referring to officials at all levels.

Some officials have either been removed from their positions or investigated for misconduct including corruption since Hun Sen announced the tougher measures.

Nuon Bophal, the deputy president of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), told The Post on Sunday that he was not certain if the ACU would launch an investigation into alleged graft at the border checkpoints. But he said the ACU generally starts a probe when news of corruption leaks.

“I’m not sure, but legally speaking we don’t need a complaint to begin an investigation, as long as there are clues of corruption."

“Then again, I’m not sure if the ACU head will probe the alleged graft [at border checkpoints]. I wouldn’t know until he sends me a case,” he said, referring to ACU head Om Yentieng."

Kirth Chantharith, the director-general of the General Department of Immigration, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

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