Demonstrators, mostly cash-strapped motorbike owners, say registration fees are too high, forcing many to flout the law by operating unregistered vehicles.
CONTROVERSIAL vehicle taxes are to be reduced throughout Cambodia following a series of protests by thousands of disgruntled motorcyclists, a top customs official said Thursday.
Widespread public anger was sparked earlier this month after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered provincial police across the Kingdom to collect the taxes in accordance with the Land Traffic Law.
Under Article 79 of the law, owners of imported motorcycles must pay a one-off registration fee of US$250. Driving a vehicle without a licence plate incurs a fine of between 25,000 riels and 200,000 riels ($6 to $48).
Since the crackdown began, tens of thousands of motorcycles have been impounded, many temporarily, by customs officials, prompting motorcyclists from across the country to stage a series of demonstrations calling for the tax and fines to be cut.
On Thursday, following a protest in Poipet, Pho Phala, head of Banteay Meanchey's Customs Department, said fines would be put on hold and the tax rate slashed, although he didn't specify how great the reduction would be or when it would come into force.
"The General Department of Customs and Excise will release a new statement that orders all customs departments around the country to reduce the vehicle tax," he said.
Thun Sophea, a motorcyclist who took part in the Poipet protest, told the Post: "I'm so happy the authorities have agreed to settle this problem.
This shows they understand how hard it is for us to pay these fees."
Fellow protester Chhayden, 25, echoed his sentiments, saying, "This proves that the authorities pay attention to us.... They really do care about the people of Cambodia."
Before the customs announcement, motorcyclists had complained that police frequently demanded money for the retrieval of confiscated vehicles.
"We're not trying to get away from the police," said Tan Van Lorn, 34, who took part in the Poipet demonstration.
"We want to be able to respect the law, but we cannot afford to pay taxes this high."
He called on the authorities to reduce the tax on older motorcycles to between $30 and $50 and suggested the registration fee for new motorcycles should be no higher than $150. The current tax levels were too high for poor people who rely on their motorcycles to earn a living, he said.
In an interview with the Post's Khmer-language edition earlier this month, Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said the protests were a clear indicator of the poverty and poor living standards being endured by many Cambodians.
"[The movement] is showing us that people are facing more hardship in their lives," he said. "To ensure social stability, security and public order, the government should re-examine its policies that relate to what the people are demanding."