More than 400 truck owners and drivers gathered in Phnom Penh on Monday to ask Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet to help them secure tax breaks and keep driving their illegal right-hand-drive vehicles, but were turned away and asked to come back with more documentation.
About 80 drivers handed a petition to the general department of customs and excise last week asking that their trucks be deemed legal and that the import taxes due on their vehicles be cut in half.
Having received no reply, a few hundred drivers and owners gathered in Wat Botum Park on Monday morning to meet with Kong Chamroeun, a secretary in Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet, hoping to enlist his help. However, Mr. Chamroeun said they would have to come back with their ID cards, loan documents and photographs of their trucks before he could accept their petition.
“Their documents are not enough,” the cabinet secretary said.
The drivers and owners said they would be back with the requested papers and photos tomorrow.
Kong Chandeth, a representative of the truckers, said they had come to Phnom Penh from Kandal, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Speu and Takeo provinces. He said they all had right-hand-drive trucks, which are illegal, but cheaper to buy. He put most of the blame for their predicament on the government.
“We are all right-hand truck drivers,” he said. “We know we bought the trucks illegally, because we have little money. But the real failure is with the customs office, which let the illegal trucks into the country in the first place.”
Mr. Chandeth said the government’s proposal to have them move their steering columns from the right side of their trucks to the left was impractical.
“We cannot change the right-hand trucks because the quality would be bad and it could cause traffic accidents,” he said.
The customs department could not be reached for comment.
Heng Sokros, one of the truck owners who came to Phnom Penh, said he took a mortgage out on his house to secure the loan he used to buy his $26,000 truck and could not afford the $4,000 import tax. He said he would have to give up the truck if forced to pay and move to Thailand to find another job.
“I don’t have enough money to pay the import tax because I need to pay back the bank,” he said. “We don’t want to be migrant workers in Thailand, so I want Samdech Hun Sen to intervene for us.”
The dispute between the government and truckers flared up late last month when a team of customs officials in Kandal stopped a pair of drivers with right-hand-drive vehicles who had not paid their import or road taxes. The drivers were allowed to leave after some 30 fellow drivers rallied to their aid, surrounding the customs team with their own trucks and blocking a national road.