Police Request Over $500K to Reward Drug-Busting Officers

The National Police has requested more than $500,000 from the Interior Ministry to fund bonuses for police officers involved in confiscating illegal drugs, officials said on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced in March that officers and units involved in drug seizures of 1 kilogram or more would receive a $10,000 payout as part of a government incentive aimed at increasing productivity among anti-drug officials.

cam photo drugs channa
National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun, left, and Health Minister Mam Bunheng speak during the second day of an annual drug conference at the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh in February. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Rights advocates on Tuesday said the dollars-for-drugs scheme could result in increased law enforcement corruption and overzealous arrests, and that the funds could be better used for drug treatment.

Deputy National Police Commissioner Mok Chito said his boss, National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun, had requested more than $500,000 to fund the bonuses during a meeting on Friday at the Interior Ministry, which was attended by Mr. Kheng. He said he could not recall the precise sum.

The reward policy came from Prime Minister Hun Sen, Mr. Kheng and Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan, who heads the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), “to encourage any forces that manage to bust drug crimes,” Lieutenant General Chito said.

Police operations that netted pure drugs weighing at least 1 kilogram would be rewarded by up to 40 million riel, about $10,000. The incentives would be based on the amount and purity level of the confiscated drugs, Lt. Gen. Chito said.

Attendees of Friday’s meeting reviewed reports on the progress of the government’s six-month anti-drug campaign, which began on January 1.

Officials will announce whether the half a million dollar request has been granted at another meeting likely to be held next week, Lt. Gen. Chito said.

General Savoeun could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

From January 1 to July 1, more than 9,600 people were arrested for suspected drug crimes, including about 5,200 for allegedly distributing drugs, according to NACD figures.

In Song, administration bureau chief at the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department, said the reward plan would encourage officials to work harder, although he said anti-drug police were already working hard even without bonuses.

But human rights and health advocates on Tuesday expressed doubts.

“Bonuses should reward overall high standards of performance, rather than promoting particular short-term, high-profile policy goals that may have a negative effect on policing overall,” Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said in an email.

It could tempt officers to “engage in over-zealous enforcement of the law” or to disregard legal procedures and individual rights, she added.

The incentive plan would “have little effect on demand for drugs or on those who profit from the drug trade,” Sou Sochenda, a manager at Khana, an NGO that supports voluntary drug treatment, said in an email.

The money to fund the bonuses—which Mr. Kheng said in March the government intended to take from the confiscated assets of drug traffickers—could be invested in drug treatment and other services that reduce health risks associated with drug abuse, Ms. Sochenda said.

Licadho’s deputy advocacy director Naly Pilorge said the plan, in a “lawless country” with corruption and problems with law enforcement and courts, seemed like “a recipe for disaster.”

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