Lawmakers, unhappy with a gradual decline in fisheries revenue and poor revenue collection, are calling for better management and enforcement.
During a National Assembly debate Wednesday on cost overruns in the 1998 budget, lawmakers were told that more than 3 billion riel ($769,000) in fisheries revenue was not collected. The total amount that should have been collected was 11.6 billion riel (nearly $3 million).
“Why could the government not collect fishery revenue as planned?” asked Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy, saying he feared the failed collection was in fact due to corruption.
One fisheries expert, who did not want to be named, did blame the decline of revenue on corruption within the fishery department.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon acknowledged the decline in fisheries revenue and attributed it partly to a number of fishing lots that have been closed for research to conserve fisheries. Keat Chhon also said his ministry sometimes tried to take legal action to collect the money.
In late 1996, the International Monetary Fund suspended loans to Cambodia in part because of the government’s inability to control rampant corruption in the logging industry. In recent months, attention has begun to be focused on similar problems in Cambodia’s fisheries industry.
Contacted by telephone Wednesday afternoon, a top government fisheries official refuted the claims by the Assembly lawmakers and even the figures being debated.
“As [far as] I know, there is no decline of tax income from fisheries,” said Nao Thuork, deputy director of the fisheries department. “We collected more income than planned.”
He said the income collected in 1999 increased to slightly to more than $3 million.
But he also acknowledged that fishing lot bidders still owed the government more than $500,000 since 1994-95.
He said some debtors were taken to court and ordered to pay the government.
Fish production has been in sharp decline. Fishery experts blame it on overfishing and the destruction of the biodiversity system, particularly through deforestation.
More than 500 million riel ($127,000) was lost in 1998 taxes not collected from the export of fish to Thailand through Poipet alone, Funcinpec’s Keo Remy charged.
Nao Thuork did not reject that claim. He said a lot of fishery products being exported to Thailand are not well controlled because they pass through illegal checkpoints. “We need cooperation from all bodies,” he said.
Keat Chhon said he was not sure why the fishery tax problem couldn’t be controlled. Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Chhea Song is also scheduled to report to the Assembly on this situation.