A plan to grant legal status to thousands of Cambodians working illegally in Thailand has been marred by allegations that Cambodia’s labor minister introduced additional fees to the registration process, officials said Monday.
Senior Labor Ministry officials alleged that, without authorization from Thai or Cambodian authorities, Funcinpec Minister Nhep Bunchin demanded that Thai employers pay a new, unexplained fee of 1,000 baht (about $25) in addition to a formal fee of 500 baht (about $12.50) that each illegal Cambodian worker in Thailand must pay to register.
The additional 1,000 baht charge is “illegal and against the administrative procedure,” Vong Sotr, CPP secretary of state for the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, claimed Monday.
“What [Nhep Bunchin] decided was not consulted among top ministry officials,” he said.
Reached by telephone Monday, Nhep Bunchin declined to say why he introduced the new charge. He also chose not to comment on the allegations that it was illegal.
“I am sorry I cannot make a comment on this,” he said. “A committee is working out the problem. Don’t ask me…. I am a democrat. I won’t do such things.”
The allegations have tainted the implementation of a 2003 agreement between Cambodia and Thailand to register some 183,000 Cambodians working illegally in Thailand, which would give them rights to work legally in that country.
Though registration began this month, one representative of Cambodia’s 17-member inter-ministerial committee appointed to oversee the registration process in Thailand, Seng Sakada, wrote to Nhep Bunchin, informing him of Thailand’s objections to the conditions surrounding the additional 1,000 baht fees.
In a copy of his April 5 letter to Nhep Bunchin, Seng Sakada added that the minister’s request for the new fee “should be sent through diplomatic channels,” and not directly to his Thai counterpart, Labor Minister Sora-At Klinpratoom.
According to a copy of an April 4 letter to Sora-At Klinpratoom, Nhep Bunchin had requested Thailand’s support in collecting the two separate fees.
“We would like to inform you that the Royal Government of Cambodia has agreed and permitted the company to charge (i) 500 Baht per person for Certificate of Identity; and (ii) 1000 Baht per person for related service. This cost shall be born by the Employer,” Nhep Bunchin wrote.
Several government officials contacted Monday denied that the government ever agreed to the proposed 1,000 baht charge.
In an earlier letter, dated Feb 25, the office of the Council of Ministers’ CPP Secretary of State Seng Lim Nov stated that all fees would be collected by a group of 17 Cambodian officials, dispatched to oversee the registration process in Thailand. A Malaysia-owned company, Post Cambodia, would computerize all the registration data of Cambodian workers, the letter stated.
While it stated that a 500 baht fee would be collected for each registration, the letter made no mention of a 1,000 baht charge for “related service.”
Contacted Monday, Seng Lim Nov said that any fees other than the 500 baht charge “must be illegal.”
“As I signed the last document, the government only allowed our workers to pay 500 baht for the Certificate of Identity. I don’t have another dossier saying that the government would permit another charge,” he said.
Another senior labor official also confirmed that Nhep Bunchin’s contact with his Thai counterpart bypassed normal administrative channels.
Usually, such contact should have been through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Thai or Cambodian embassies, the senior official said, on condition of anonymity.