Police deployed along national routes for election-season weapons checks are exacting tariffs for the transportation of goods and people, small-scale businessmen and taxi drivers complained this week.
Cattle trader Sim Sam said Monday that last Wednesday police in Kompong Speu province’s Odong district tried to extort 400,000 riel (about $100) from him for trucking cows to the slaughterhouse, despite his having certificates signed by commune and provincial animal health officials.
The police, telling him that the government veterinarians had no authority, eventually let him through with a payment of 120,000 riel (about $30) for which they issued no receipt, Sim Sam said.
“This is corruption,” he said. “The competent authorities are hurting small-scale traders.”
Lim Leang Huoy, a truck driver who hauls cattle, said Monday that since the elections his truck has been stopped about seven times per trip on National Route 5 between Kompong Chhnang town and Phnom Penh. He said that police usually demanded
5,000 riel (about $1.25) per checkpoint from the truck drivers, but that the recent surge in demand was a costly bite.
Most costly was a recent day when police detained his truck for a day while demanding 2 million riel (about $500) and a cow from a cattle trader, Lim Leang Huoy said.
Eventually the authorities settled for 320,000 riel (about $80) and a cow.
“I want the government to stop these activities or small people cannot make money to support themselves,” he said. “Why are the competent forces charging traders when they have legal authorization from the expert authorities?”
Taxi drivers working Route 5 said Tuesday that some checkpoints had been removed that day, but they were still angry.
Police “just have a quick look inside my car, and sometimes they ask me if my car carries a gun. I say, ‘Nothing inside.’ They get 1,000 riel (about $0.25) each time,” said Ty Chiya, who drives between Phnom Penh and Pursat town daily.
“If I had a bomb inside, they wouldn’t know,” he said.
A Banteay Meanchey provincial official, who asked not to be named, said Tuesday that there are six checkpoints between Poipet and Sisophon. Travelers of that stretch of Route 5 agreed.
On Monday, police at five checkpoints on National Route 3 between Phnom Penh and Phsar Tram Thna in Takeo province’s Bati district were seen demanding small payments from drivers.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said Tuesday that he was glad to know about the extortion problem so the government can correct it.
“The government does not have the principle that allows the police to charge people money” at checkpoints, he said. “It only wants them to search for guns and prevent an influx into Phnom Penh.”
“Some political parties cheat the people into coming to Phnom Penh after elections to get some gifts from the lottery, and [the parties] then trick them into demonstrating,” Khieu Sopheak said. “That is what the government is worried about.”
He added that the checkpoints will remain in place indefinitely.