Government warnings to strictly enforce vehicle regulations have done little to reduce
the presence of illegal vehicles on the streets, officials in the Ministry of Public
Works and Transport admitted.
Despite a government ban on vehicles with right-handed steering wheels in 2001 and
a campaign to issue official license plates to motorists, vehicle dealers said the
efforts had been thwarted by powerful government interests involved in the trade.
Customs officials raided several car dealerships in Phnom Penh in June to identify
shops that sold illegal vehicles. But no arrests or confiscations were made because
vendors received prior information before police arrived, said a vendor who wished
to remain anonymous.
He added that Cambodian military officers on the border with Thailand were routinely
hired to drive vehicles to Phnom Penh, sometimes as part of government convoys.
"I heard that smugglers would pay [bribes] in Battambang or Banteay Meanchey
provinces," said the vendor. "I don't know how many cars are smuggled into
Phnom Penh, but I estimate there are about two cars per month."
Several owners of the banned vehicles, who asked not to be named, said the cars and
trucks were cheaper than those with left-handed steering wheels and were not taxed.
They added that a fake tax certificate could be purchased easily for about $100.
Srey Sirey Vadh, deputy director of the Department of Land Transport in the Ministry
of Public Works and Transport, refused to comment on the number of illegal vehicles
operating in Cambodia, but said that any vehicles with right-handed steering wheels
imported after 1999 were prohibited. He acknowledged that the latest government ban
in 2001 was not being enforced.
"I think that there are many ways the cars can enter the country along the Thai
border," he said. "Consumers just use the right-handed steering vehicles
and the government overlooks them."
Phnom Penh governor Kep Chutema has also ordered police to crack down on street vendors
who sell illegal license plates. But that order has not met with much success. The
vendors are still common.
Illegal license plates are generally sold for between 6,000 and 10,000 riel. Vendors
claim that the plates are not illegal provided vehicle owners produce documents that
certify owenership. The government disagrees.
Sirey Vadh said that 101,000 vehicles had been legally registered by the Depatment
of Land Transport in 2002. The legal license plates sell for between $12 and $16.
A local company, Tan Tran Ship, holds a contract to produce the license plates, which
are imported from Singapore.