Minister: Military License Plates Not Being Abused

During a National Assembly debate Thursday on the new traffic law, Defense Minister Tea Banh defended the proliferation of military license plates on Cambodia’s roads and insisted that his ministry was not abusing the system of military plates.

The existing traffic law prohibits the use of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) license plates on privately owned vehicles, but this provision is rarely enforced. During parliamentary debates over the new law earlier this week, opposition lawmakers, including CNRP President Sam Rainsy, expressed concern about the “anarchy” caused by the large numbers of vehicles with RCAF plates.

Lawmakers rise to greet National Assembly President Heng Samrin at the opening of Thursday's session of parliament. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Lawmakers rise to greet National Assembly President Heng Samrin at the opening of Thursday’s session of parliament. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

General Banh, who is also a parliamentarian representing Siem Reap province, remained silent during the previous debates, but Thursday said the time had come for him to respond.

“For speakers to say that the Ministry of Defense has put too many vehicles on the streets with military license plates is far from the truth, and the comments suggesting this is the case are unacceptable,” he said, fiddling with the buttons on his suit jacket as he spoke.

“I think they may have bad eyesight, or if they wear glasses, I don’t know what kind of glasses they are wearing that would make them see so many military plates.”

General Banh said the same law that permits the Ministry of Defense to issue number plates also allows the National Police, the National Assembly and the Senate to issue its own license plates.

But he said due to budget restrictions, Defense Ministry officials often had to purchase their own vehicles and therefore an exception was needed so they were able to apply for RCAF plates for their privately owned vehicles.

“Officials that have the ability to buy their own cars have the right to ask for military license plates…and sometimes, family members other than the owner will use their family cars,” he said, adding that those officials must sign contracts that prioritize the vehicles’ use for state duties and prohibit them from being sold or rented.

CNRP lawmaker Kimsuor Phirith said during Thursday’s debate that despite General Banh’s comments, the Defense Ministry should not benefit from exceptions to the law.

“Law is law. So don’t talk about exceptions,” he said. “Exceptions to the law are loopholes that makes implementing the law more difficult.”

He suggested that the National Committee for Road Safety, which drafts laws on traffic, should consider taking away the Ministry of Defense’s right to issue license plates in an effort to curb the crime that happens as a result of their misuse.

Tram Iv Tek, the Minister of Public Works and Transportation, which issues all civilian vehicle registrations, said his officials would cooperate with the ministries of defense and interior “to make respect for the law more perfect” when it came to license plates.

During Thursday’s session, the National Assembly passed four chapters of the new traffic law, and will continue debating the law Friday.

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