Fishermen protesting in Sihanoukville over the weekend have solved at least one of their problems: a tax hike.
The government had planned to increase taxes on boats, permits and goods by as much as 20 percent, officials said last week.
Angered at the new tax, as well as the alleged encroachment by foreign fishing boats and corruption of local officials, the protesters met Friday and Saturday with Sihanoukville Governor Ith Detola.
As an outcome of those meetings, the Ministry of Agriculture agreed to drop the tax, which would have taken effect on open-water fishermen beginning Jan 1.
“I think the ministry did the right thing” by speaking to the fishermen and working to resolve their problems, Agriculture Minister Chhea Song said Monday. He added that the fishermen seemed to be satisfied with the result.
As for the complaint about foreign fishing vessels, a solution was not so readily in hand. The Cambodian government does not have the equipment nor the firepower it needs to patrol its waters, said Nao Thouk, deputy director of the fishery department in the Ministry of Environment
“We have a law to punish illegal boats and illegal officials,” he said. “But we don’t have fast enough boats or weapons to crack down on them.”
Fishermen have complained to the ministry that boats from both Vietnam and Thailand regularly fish in Cambodia’s waters. They say these boats—protected by “powerful men” in the Cambodian government—force them out of the best fishing waters. Fishermen also complain of intimidation and corruption from local officials.
These complaints will be passed along to the Interior Ministry, said Puth Chandarith, second deputy governor of Sihanoukville.
“I believe it is important to settle this,” he said. “And I’m sure among military and police in charge of the sea, some are good and some are bad.”
The protest—made by an actual amount of about 150 persons—went much more peaceably than protests in the past. Last year, a protest over toxic waste led to near-riots.