With no land, no work and no money, Sean Sreng left Prey Veng province three years ago for the promise of a decent job in Phnom Penh.
What he has found is work as a motortaxi driver, making about $2 a day, on which he supports his wife and five children.
His wife recently lost her job as a shoe vendor when the city banned the import of second-hand shoes. There’s barely enough money for food and rent, and now Sean Sreng’s situation has grown even worse.
The city is boosting the fine for unregistered motorbikes from 500 to 5,000 riel, and Sean Sreng sees harder times ahead for his family.
“It’s their way of killing people, of making people’s living conditions worse,” Sean Sreng said. “Prime Minister Hun Sen frequently announces plans to eliminate poverty, to make it disappear. But, on the contrary, the government adds another heavy burden on the poor.”
Earlier this year, the government began a push to have all of the city’s motorbikes registered. After a June 1 deadline, police began issuing 500 riel fines to people driving bikes without a license plate.
Nhem Sarun, director of public works for the municipality, said 30,000 motorbike owners have registered their bikes in the past several months.
So far, only 10,000 new plates have been issued. When the remaining 20,000 plates have been issued—probably by the end of August—police will start levying the 5,000 riel fines against anyone without registration, he said.
The registration and license plate cost 35,000 riel. In order for a motorbike to be registered, the taxes costing up to $200 must be paid on the motorbike, depending on its age and condition.
“What we are doing is for people’s security,” Nhem Sarun said. “It will be easy for the authorities to control crime and investigate stolen vehicles.”
Sean Sreng said the government should have sent a warning letter to people, then given them several months to save the money needed for the registration and taxes. He said that would have been a fairer solution.
Because Sean Sreng cannot afford a house in Phnom Penh, he rents a room for $15 a month. He earns between 5,000 and 12,000 riel a day, and sets aside 2,000 riel each day for rent.
“I have no salary from work in a company and I have no government position to do corruption as [some government officials] have done,” he said. “For me, it is very hard to support my family each month.”
None of his five children go to school. “I can’t find the money for the school fee,” he said. “Two of them started class last year, but had to leave because there was no money.
“My children are facing a lack of education. Does the government pay as much attention to this as it does to the taxes?
“Most of the government officials are rich and do not mind paying small taxes,” Sean Sreng said. “They think this is a small one, but for me it is too much. They never take care of people’s living conditions.
“They buy brand new motorbikes and cars for their children to play around Phnom Penh and cause troubles for people. They have never been in a bad condition like me. If they become motortaxi drivers, they will know how hard we have it.”
Sok Leakna, deputy chief of cabinet for the municipality, said people should not be having such difficulties paying the tax. “They have money to buy a motorbike. Why don’t they have money for tax payments?” he asked. “It is unbelievable.”
Sok Leakna said the municipality will increase the fines indefinitely until everyone has a registered motorbike.
At least two part-time motortaxi drivers say they have been able to pay the tax—but at a price.
“I took money from my grocery but now I have not enough money for my wife to buy things for my small stall,” said Yao Sopheak, who paid $45 to register his motorbike.
Similarly, Nhean Sarin borrowed money for a license plate, but said he will have difficulty paying his father back the $35.
Sam Ol, a motortaxi driver, said he wants to pay the tax on his motorbike, but can barely support his family with the 8,000 to 13,000 riel he earns each day. “I try to save money, but it is not enough,” he said. “It only supports my family.”
When the fines go up to 5,000 riel, Sam Ol said he will stop driving his motorbike until he can borrow enough money from his relatives to pay for the taxes and license plate.
“I do not oppose the government order. I live under the government so I have to follow it,” Sam Ol said. “But what I am facing is no money.”