The human rights organization Adhoc is to lodge a complaint with provincial authorities in Ratanakkiri province over allegations that indigenous villagers are being forced to pay bribes to commune-level officials in order to receive birth and marriage certificates.
More than 20 ethnic minority members of just two communes in the province have reported being forced to hand over $5 to commune clerks or more senior commune officials to have their mandatory paper work issued, said Pen Bonnar, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator in Ratanakkiri.
Officially, applicants for birth and marriage certificates are required to pay only 200 to 500 riel, or about $0.05 to $0.13, as the government’s policy is to encourage registration of all Cambodian citizens, Mr Bonnar said.
“To get a copy of a birth certificate or a copy of a marriage certificate the commune clerks and commune authorities demand $5 otherwise they will not do it for the villagers,” he said.
Adhoc will send a letter to the provincial governor next week calling on authorities to “investigate and intervene to end such illegal extortion performed against indigenous villager who are very poor,” he added.
Mr Bonnar said the 20 complaints hail from O’Yadaw district’s Lumchor commune and O’Chum district’s O’Chum commune.
“They demanded the money saying we need to pay for their help in writing the certificates for births and marriages and to pay for the cost of pens,” O’Chum village chief Keour Sean said yesterday, adding that the exorbitant costs had left 10 residents of the village unable to register the births of new children.
Lumchor commune chief Sev Thvan defended the irregular fees, saying that not all the applicants had to pay the full $5.
“Some villagers just pay a little,” he said.
O’Chum commune chief Vong Duong said that he was not the one who collected the money: “I heard villagers complain about this but the person who takes the money is not me.”
“The clerk is the person who meets the villagers…. I just sign the paperwork, not meet the people. How could I be involved?”
Admitting to taking $5 from the villagers, O’Chum commune clerk Soum Sam Prathna said he was providing a service and not extorting money. Mr Prathna maintained that he was also saving the ethnic minority villagers money by levying his own fee of $5 for each document issued.
“They [villagers] agree to pay for my gasoline and a food allowance as I went to their villages directly,” he said. “If the villagers came to have their certificates done at the commune office they would spend much more money than this because of the long distance they would travel.”
O’Yadaw district governor Dak Sar said the clerk’s sideline business was illegal and that he would “look into this scandal.”
“It is illegal to ask money from villagers, especially poor indigenous people. The government is encouraging people to get birth certificates in order to get an exact figure of the population,” he said.