The 47-year-old woman stood in line in Russei Keo district headquarters, waiting to apply for an ID card. She said knew she would have to pay the local authorities to get it.
“It is not much [money],” sighed the woman, who would not give her name. “But, you know, this is grassroots corruption of government officials.”
The amount the authority demands is trifling—usually around 3,000 riel (about $0.75) per card. But for the poor families of Russei Keo, on the northern outskirts of Phnom Penh, even that amount means a lot. And they say the practice of charging for ID cards hurts their perception of government.
Early Monday morning, as Keat Choeun and Vat Van trekked down the narrow, flooded path linking their homes to a main road, they talked about the ID fees.
Keat Choeun, 51, said he had to pay a total of 9,000 riel (about $2.25) for cards for the three members of his family old enough to carry them. It wasn’t an enormous sum, the men agreed, but it was enough to feed each of their families for a day.
Mei Sopha, a Russei Keo police officer in charge of ID applications, admitted he demanded payment from applicants, but said he had no choice.
“Every job costs money or it won’t get done,” he said. “I do my job for the Khmer people, not for the money. Our superiors tell us not to ask for money, but they forget to pay us for petrol, pens and paper.”
Villagers agreed with Mei Sopha’s reasoning, saying they didn’t blame individual officers, but the corrupt bureaucratic system.
Pum Virak, the municipal police department’s deputy bureau chief in charge of ID cards, said he was unaware of the ID bribes. He promised Tuesday that he would investigate.” By principle, even a cent should not be paid,” he said. “People there are poor.”
Russei Keo Governor Touch Sarun said he also was unaware of the scam and would try to stop it. “But the thing is not so serious,” he said. “They ask so little money.”