The number of people transporting goods by ox cart between Thailand and Cambodia at the Poipet international border crossing has dropped by nearly 60 percent due to an increase in informal fees being demanded by immigration officials, ox cart handlers and rights workers said yesterday.
Mam Vuthy, director of the local group known as Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association, which represents Ox Cart men, said business has been hard for ox cart riders ever since a drop in trade levels between Thailand and Cambodia during last year’s economic recession, but greedy border officials have made things go from bad to worse.
Whereas at this time last year there were at least 700 ox cart riders transporting goods across the border to Thailand, “Now there are only about 300 ox cart riders left in Poipet,” Mr Vuthy said. “Multiple police officers add on informal payments depending on the kind of goods that are being transported,” he said, adding that the drain on meager ox cart profits had forced most to pack up and go home.
Mr Vuthy said that ox cart drivers should only be obliged to pay around $7 for an immigration card that lasts six months, a measure that was introduced in January.
“I feel that the authorities aren’t paying attention to the poor people using ox carts across the international checkpoint, he added.
Chen Muon, 61, an ox cart rider living in Poipet City, said that while during the same month last year he earned more than $10 per day for his transportation services, he was now earning scarcely more than 10,000 riel, or $2.50 per day.
“Many police officers at the international checkpoint are oppressing the poorest and taking a lot of many from us for transporting goods across the border,” he said.
Hai Deib, 43, the owner of 60 ox carts in Poipet City, which he rents for $1 per day to riders, said that he was able to rent all of his carts at this time last year. Today only about 30 are being rented.
While ox cart riders are diminishing in number due to a rising amount of informal payments, officials yesterday showed little sympathy to their cause, saying the fees levied were simply import and export taxes.
“We order [ox cart riders] to pay tax on the goods they bring to and from Thailand. We are not concerned about their job. They can find another job to support their family,” Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Ung Oeurn said.