Just five months out from the commune elections, the government has unveiled plans to eliminate the fees for three state-issued documents – ID cards, residence books and family books – a move one opposition lawmaker said was a blatant attempt to curry favour with voters.
In addition to removing the 10,000 riel ($2.50) fee, the Ministry of Interior confirmed yesterday that it would also eliminate fines attached to applying late for traditionally free birth, death and marriage certificates.
“We are going to publish a [sub-decree] to start implementing it soon,” Prok May Oudom, spokesman for the ministry’s General Department of Identification, said of this latest in a recent series of populist moves. “We will stop taking fees for these documents soon, this month.”
May Oudom said provincial authorities were informed of the move last month, adding that it would “ease the burden” on citizens, who were at times deterred by the cost.
The decision, disseminated yesterday by government news agency AKP, first came to light in a Facebook post last week by ruling party lawmaker Sar Sokha, son of Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng. Reached yesterday, Sokha directed all queries to the ministry, saying he personally had no involvement in the directive.
But what steps, if any, the government is taking to eliminate the collection of unofficial fees by local authorities a widely complained-about reality for many Cambodians was less clear yesterday.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, who said that any loss of revenue from the fees would be minimal, admitted that officials at the local level could not always be trusted to play by the book. “The government always tries to educate its staff to be humble and a servant of the people. But it cannot cover for all their flaws,” he said.
And while not directly addressing whether there was a political motivation behind the move, Eysan said it was “unavoidable” for the ruling party to benefit from policies that were popular among the people.
He specifically pointed to the recent elimination of driver’s licences for motorcycles under 125cc and granting of lifetime stall ownership for market vendors, two moves he said would similarly work in the CPP’s favour.
“People will never forget those who provide these services for them,” he said. “But, they would never vote for those who insult, threaten and oppose them, like the opposition.”
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday said the political nature of the move was obvious, and the directive ultimately misguided. “The problem is not the fees,” he said. “It is the corruption and having to pay extra unofficially that the government should focus on.”
He said citizens were routinely forced to pay informal fees or bribes to “cut through the red tape”, adding that local administrations might feel the pinch if not adequately compensated.
“I think it is now a habit [to expect bribes],” he said. “I don’t know when [officials] are going to have enough [money].”
A Daun Penh district resident, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly, yesterday told reporters she had been asked by local authorities to pay a $100 bribe to change her and her mother’s names on their family book, which she negotiated down to $50.
Her brother’s date of birth was input incorrectly, she added, almost costing him a prospective job.
“They said I could try doing it myself and not pay the fees, but that they could not ensure when I would get the changes,” she said. “What can we do?”