koh thom district, Kandal province – Though residents of this district have a newly reconstructed road, doing business here, some say, is harder than ever.
Nearly a year since renovations on Road 21 were completed, residents say they no longer have to transport produce to Phnom Penh by boat or by motorbike or bicycle along the once muddy and potholed road. But while transportation is faster and easier, they say, there’s a new impediment to trade: Unofficial checkpoints and unofficial taxes.
“It’s extremely difficult to do business because we have to pay many different authorities,” said one 20-year-old vegetable trader, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisal by authorities, during an interview this month.
In December, Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to remove provincial officials if illegal checkpoints appeared in their provinces.
But villagers here say police and customs offices have been setting up unofficial tolls nonetheless.
To transport a carload of vegetables to the capital, the vegetable trader said, he usually has to pay a total of $2.50 to $7.50 at different checkpoints along the way. Those checkpoints never provide official receipts from the provincial customs and excise department, he said. And, he added: “If we fail to pay them, then they seize our car and fine us.”
A 45-year-old farmer, who also declined to give his name, said he has had similar experiences.“The authorities are deployed at every corner,” he said. “We have to pay police or customs officials. That’s why we hardly make a profit.”
Last week, Kandal province Governor Tep Nannory denied the villagers’ claims. “I don’t think police seize the peoples’ goods,” he said. “If customs officials [in Kandal province] perform their duties improperly, the vendors can submit a complaint to me.”
Asked about reported illegal checkpoints along Road 21, Tam Vei, deputy provincial police chief, said: “I don’t know.”
Tam Vei said authorities have six official checkpoints set up along the Cambodia-Vietnam border in Koh Thom district “to protect the border.” But he declined to say how much police charge vendors to cross.
Officials at the General Directorate of Customs and Excise repeatedly declined to comment.
Some villagers, however, maintain business used to be easier.
“Before the road was difficult, but it was easy to do business,” the 45-year-old farmer said. “We could escape from police.”