Trucks exceeding the legal weight limits are being allowed to cross the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship and Monivong bridges into Phnom Penh, costing the government tens of thousands of dollars annually in lost revenue, officials said last week.
In theory, trucks weighing more than 20 tons are banned from the bridges to avoid damaging the structures.
Those coming from the north, for example, are supposed to cross into the city via the government-controlled Prek Kdam ferry about 29 km upriver.
But that isn’t happening, ferry director Phat Sareth said in an interview at the dock last week. The loss of truck traffic at the ferry is costing the government “many hundreds of millions of riel,” he said.
Phat Sareth said heavy trucks are charged about $12 to $30 each to cross the Tonle Sap by ferry, depending on the type of cargo and size of the truck. He said he collected 200 million riel (about $50,000) for the government last year from cargo traffic.
He estimates that at least that much is lost because police and other officials are taking bribes and allowing overweight trucks to cross secretly at night.
While the problem isn’t new, the ferry director’s claims come at a time when the government is professing to crack down on similar kinds of corruption. In March, for example, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the arrest of 41 police and army officials accused of setting up illegal checkpoints.
Truckers say this one is simple: they sneak across the bridges because it’s faster and cheaper than the ferry crossing.
Drivers must clear two hurdles to get across the bridge—an official checkpoint, staffed by the city’s public works department, at Preak Leap about 6 km from the bridge; and the police guarding the bridge itself.
A driver of a cement truck interviewed at the bridge last week said he pays about 2,000 riel at the Preak Leap checkpoint and about 5,000 riel to police at the bridge so he passes “easily.”
Officials in charge of both operations said if anybody takes bribes, it’s the other guys.
Nhem Saran, chief of Phnom Penh’s public works department, said that although the Preak Leap station has a duty to inspect the trucks, officials there have no scale to weigh them.
And while none of his men take bribes, he said, perhaps police along the road and on the bridge do. “Sometimes, I saw truck drivers drop money on the street and the police went to pick it up,” Nhem Saran said.
Police interviewed at the bridge said while they sometimes see heavy trucks passing, it is not their job to stop them. And although they don’t take bribes, they said, sometimes drivers give them money out of pity.
Tith Savuon, chief of the police unit in charge of bridge security, denied his men takes bribes and suggested reporters check with officials at the Preak Leap station.
“We never do like this,” he said. “We are here to protect people’s safety as they travel over [the bridge] and to prevent it from being destroyed by terrorists.”
Phat Sareth, the ferry director, says it is similar on the Monivong bridge, but that there is no ferry in the south to provide an alternative. There is also no checkpoint for truck traffic headed to the Monivong bridge.
, so drivers are essentially on an honor system regarding the weight of their cargoes.