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Poipet research finds corruption drain on economy

Poipet research finds corruption drain on economy

Research conducted by NGOs this month confirmed that bribes on Thai goods imported

through the border town of Poipet and road "tolls" by military and police

officials still impose a major cost on workers, businesses and the government.

Two studies carried out in 2001 and 2002 found that illegal fees to transport goods

from Poipet on the border with Thailand to cities such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and

Battambang exceed the official cost of government tariffs.

The tariffs, which are typically not collected, range between 7 and 15 percent on

most products. While buyers in Poipet pay less in bribes than they would in taxes,

retailers outside the city pay an average of 21 percent of the cost of goods in bribes,

the report stated.

"The problem arises because of checkpoints," said Jacco Minnaar, a consultant

on the study. "You have to bribe your way through the country, which makes the

cost much higher."

The report concluded that eliminating graft on shipping goods through Cambodia would

raise government revenue, increase officials' salaries, spark business growth and

boost tax revenue. It would also curb the abuse of Poipet day laborers who must negotiate

bribes with officials. NGO workers reported that some border officials use nails

to puncture the tires of the carts of workers who try to evade bribes.

A follow-up to the original studies this month found the campaign to scale back official

corruption on the border had only moderate success. Although the number of officials

at the border has declined since 2002, and the number of checkpoints fell from 11

to five, the same amount of money was being extorted from day laborers, said a researcher

with ZOA Refugee Care, an NGO in the area.

Day laborers in Poipet typically take home less than 43 baht ($1) each day. They

push handcarts across the border to bring vegetables, clothing and other goods from

Thailand to Cambodia. The workers pay about 84 percent of their earnings as bribes,

the report found.

"It's difficult for them to step out of this dependence on day-to-day labor,"

said Mike Fennema, a project coordinator with ZOA Refugee Care. "They make enough

to survive."

The report stated that three-quarters of the study's respondents, about 120 day laborers,

encountered threats or intimidation from government officials. At least 25 percent

reported confiscation of property or assault and ten percent had been arrested.

A sub-decree was passed in July 2001 to address the problem. The legislation orders

only authorized agencies, Camcontrol, immigration inspectors, customs officials and

provincial authorities to inspect border commerce. Previously, officials ranging

from sanitation officers to military police had been stationed at the border.

The law also calls for a "one stop" checkpoint to eliminate the sort of

serial inspections that plague workers. However, problems persist.

The NGOs who sponsored the research, including Licadho, ADHOC and ZOA Refugee Care,

continue to run development and monitoring projects in the area. ZOA Refugee Care

indicated they would attempt to negotiate with the provincial border committee about

the problems again. In the past, the committee reportedly said it was unable to censure

national government officials.

Poipet boomed with the arrival of eight new casinos along the border in recent years.

Most of the commune's 80,000 residents still live in poverty.

NGO workers say the sprawling town is host to serious social problems and is the

nexus for child trafficking in Cambodia. The NGO World Vision estimates that 400

to 800 children cross the border daily to beg and earn money.

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