The smell of money is in the air as rush hour descends on the intersection of Norodom and Mao Tse-tung boulevards.
Trucks creaking under the weight of heavy loads slow as a traffic police officer approaches, orange plastic wand motioning the vehicles to stop. A hand pops out of one truck’s window. The officer reaches out with a white-gloved hand, palm up.
Traffic elsewhere in the intersection moves at its own pace. Drivers turn without signaling, press on through red lights, make U-turns into oncoming traffic.
The police officer’s palm is met by the driver’s. There is an exchange. The truck is waved on.
“We don’t demand it from them. The drivers give it to us,” says one of the policemen.
Street-level corruption still exists in Cambodia, a report from the government acknowledged this week. A plan to offer raises next month to some of the nation’s civil service staff could reduce corruption.
One traffic policeman says the municipality pays him 70,000 riel a month, plus a 20,000 riel bonus for working at a busy intersection, for a total of about $23.
“Our salary is too low,” says one corner policeman. “It is not enough so we have to take the money from the truck driver. We are ashamed.”
A truck passes slowly as they speak, creaking under the strain of rice bags towering high on the truck’s bed. The police say they like to stop such vehicles because the trucks are obvious violators of traffic safety.
“If we stopped them and searched their trucks we would find many things wrong. They would have to go to the central traffic police office and pay a large fine. It is better if we just ask them for money, so they pay only small fines,” says one of the officers.
The government’s plan to raise salaries sounds good, the police here say, but fear the money will go to the higher-ranking officials.
One policeman says he would need a $90 monthly salary to feed his family.
“But we are small ranking people, so we will get nothing,” he says.