Hing Chantha, a 45-year-old farmer in Kandal province, has lived with corruption his whole life.
In 1996, he opened a business selling cabbage, cucumber and other vegetables at Takhmao market. Every year since then, he figures, he’s paid $300 a year in corruption, to protect his business and keep his children in school, and for various nagging fees that eat up a quarter of his annual gross.
“The amount of money is a small sum for the rich,” he said in a recent interview. “But it is very valuable for me as a farmer, working hard from morning to night.”
Hing Chantha is an ordinary man, facing ordinary corruption, one of millions of Cambodians who see their earnings whittled away through unofficial fees, or tea money, or lose out to nepotism, patronage, theft, or tax evasion.
He’s heard about a new anti-corruption law, officially approved this month, he said, but he doubts it will eliminate the costs he continually faces. That law, which has yet to be promulgated, provides punishments for officials who engage in corruption, as well as for middlemen who perpetuate it.
For Hing Chantha—who lives in an aging wooden house with a tin roof, less than 10 kilometers from the massive Kandal province complex of Prime Minister Hun Sen—the law is far away and corruption is close at home.
“I have suffered from corruption, and I have experienced unofficial daily payments through my own life,” he said.
Hing Chantha is a thin man, short, a father of five. He carries vegetables to the market on his old motorcycle at 4 am, returning to the farm a few hours later to tend the crops he keeps behind his house.
He sat tired in a small plastic chair one morning and recalled the bribes he’s had to pay in his life: $40 to local police to protect his land from being taken by a private company; $37.50 for the birth certificates of his children; $7.50 for a marriage certificate; $18 for the privilege to sell at the market; and $30 a month to keep his children in school.
“The unofficial payments have not provided any benefit to me, but they have deepened the poverty of my daily life,” he said. “I can tolerate the poverty in my family, but I cannot tolerate the sufferings of corruption.”