International visitors to Cambodia are still being asked to hand over small bribes upon entering the country, despite promises over the past few years to stamp out the practice, the head of a tourism working group said he told the government during his last meeting in the position.
Cambodia’s airports and border checkpoints are notorious for the immigration officers who demand “tea money” from visitors. In 2013, a Chinese journalist penned a scathing article in the Global Times newspaper after officials at Siem Reap International Airport asked her to pay a bribe.
But the problem persists, according to Ho Vandy, outgoing co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, who said he raised the issue at a meeting on Sunday, during which chef and hotelier Luu Meng was named as his replacement.
“This problem [still] happens at Phnom Penh International Airport and Siem Reap International Airport, and at the Poipet and Bavet international checkpoints, and the victims are mostly Chinese and Taiwanese tourists,” he said.
“If our hospitality is bad, they will remember,” he added. “It affects them psychologically. In return, this affects Cambodia’s tourism industry in both private and state sectors.”
Lieutenant General Keo Vannthan, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, denied that his officers took bribes.
“I have never heard of this. We have put signs up at the airport [advising travelers] about tip demands,” he said, adding that police caught extorting visitors could be demoted or even fired.
At Phnom Penh International Airport on Tuesday, a dozen passengers interviewed after arriving on a flight from Singapore said they had passed through immigration without being asked for a bribe.
For Chinese national Li Shi Lin, 29, who has been employed at a shoe factory in Phnom Penh for the past two years, it was the first time he had not been approached.
“I don’t know why it’s different. I’ve traveled back and forth…five times already,” he said, adding each time he arrived in Cambodia previously, he was asked for two dollars.
“I think it is bad, but I feel it is normal for this country,” he said.
Wang Shuo, 24, an engineer from Beijing who has worked for a Kampot Cement factory for the past year, was not so lucky.
“Every time I come to this airport, I am always asked [for a bribe]. Just a moment ago, I gave them one dollar,” she said.
“If we eat food, it is normal to give a tip. But this is not right.”
Khek Norinda, communications director for Cambodia Airports, which operates both the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports, said that stamping out all graft remained a goal of the company.
“Visitors to Cambodia get their first impression of the country at its airports,” he said. “Therefore, Cambodia Airports is constantly in talks with Cambodian authorities to further improve services provided by their immigration officers.”
© 2015, Huot Chanpav. All rights reserved.