The Interior Ministry has responded to remarks the chief of the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) made this week about graft among police officials, claiming that such comments belittle the work of civil servants who have dedicated their lives to the state.
Speaking at a public event on Tuesday to celebrate the fight against corruption, ACU chairman Om Yentieng took aim at traffic police and officials from the Interior Ministry’s identification department, saying he would take an “iron brush” to them to scrub away corruption.
“In 2016, we will draw up a clear plan for the identification issue. People have complained a lot. The Anti-Corruption Unit will join with the youth to resolve this issue,” he told a crowd of hundreds at Koh Pich theater, referring to youth groups working closely with the anti-graft body, including an organization headed by the prime minister’s son Hun Many.
“Secondly, the Anti-Corruption Unit will join with the youth to resolve the issues on our streets of traffic police setting up illegal checkpoints. We will use the iron brush of our youth to remove this issue from our boulevards and national roads.”
Identification cards and family books are supposed to cost $2.50 each, according to a decree issued by the Interior Ministry in April, but officials issuing the documents have been known to raise the prices for their own benefit.
Illegal police checkpoints are a problem throughout the country. Some are so well established that taxi drivers stop and put cash inside a box attached to a police motorcycle even when officers are not present.
Mr. Yentieng said the ACU’s young helpers had been monitoring illegal checkpoints lately, and had witnessed police haggling with taxi and van drivers.
“Those drivers hear the opposition radio insulting the government and then they come upon illegal checkpoints and see that the radio was right to insult,” Mr. Yentieng said. “So I think this is a big issue, not a small issue.”
“In five years, the Anti-Corruption Unit has not yet arrested any traffic police officers, but that does not mean we won’t do it in 2016,” he added.
In response to Mr. Yentieng’s scathing assessment of traffic police and identification officials, the Interior Ministry fought back in a statement released on Thursday.
“Recently, some media has broadcast that traffic police and I.D. officials commit corruption, and that they [the ACU] will use an iron brush to clean it,” the statement said.
While recognizing that “some police officials have taken opportunities and acted unethically, making people angry,” the statement requests that not all officials be judged on the actions of the worst.
“All forces of the National Police, especially the traffic police, use all of their heart and effort, and their work should not be overlooked. When they are tired, whether it’s day or night, even when the weather is hot or cold, if it’s raining, if it’s a holiday or if they need to meet with their family or children, they still fulfill their obligations to our citizens,” it said.
However, Chan Kimseng, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s identification department, said on Friday that he was aware of complaints of graft among officials under him, and welcomed the ACU’s interest.
“This issue is not occurring at the general department of identification; it is happening at the sub-national level, which is also our responsibility,” Lieutenant General Kimseng said.
“We always make reminders about this issue…. Please, if the ACU finds officials who have committed such offenses, penalize them according to the law.”
Senior traffic police officials could not be reached for comment.