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In Wake of Complaints, City Agents Charge Correct Tax

A watchdog organization says the Ministry of Economy and Finance's tax collectors are bilking the country out of at least a million dollars a year by overcharging for annual vehicle stickers.

As the deadline for annual vehicle taxes approaches, tax agents in Phnom Penh appear to be avoiding the kind of overcharges that led to a flurry of complaints last month.

In a bundle of 90 complaints sent to the newfound Anti-Corruption Unit, 2,700 people complained they were being overcharged at tax collection sites across the country.

But at 15 sites around Phnom Penh this week, tax agents were charging the standard amount set by the Ministry of Finance, while avoiding unofficial surcharges.

“I paid for tags for two motorcycles according to the price on the invoice,” said Chea Bora, a 30-year-old resident of Phnom Penh's Prampi Makara district. His Chaly cost 3,500 riel, about $0.80, for a vehicle tag, and his more expensive Fino cost 4,500 riel, about $1.07.

“The tax agents didn't overcharge me,” he said.

Ly Vanny, a tax agent in the capital's Chamkar Mon district, said accusations of overcharging did not apply to her.

“We respect the price table of the Ministry of Economy and Finance's general tax department,” she said. “We want the process of vehicle tax collection to have transparency and effectiveness for both tax agents and tax payers.”

Nevertheless, in complaints filed with the ACU by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, Cambodians said they were being overcharged for their annual tags. The ACU has said it is considering the complaints for possible investigation.

Om John, deputy chief of the Finance Ministry's tax department, said agents have been counseled not to over charge, though they do not always comply. Still, he said, overcharging has been reduced.

The deadline for vehicle tax is Oct. 20, and as the deadline approaches, people outside of Phnom Penh say they are being forced to overpay. Sometimes they are asked to pay extra for the forms, or for pens, they said.

“I almost lost my temper, because the government staff are supposed to work to serve the interests of the people,” said Thon Saroeun, 38, who lives in Siem Reap province. The set fee for tax on his CRV car is 100,000 riel, or $25, he said. But agents charged him an extra 5,000 riel.

“It affects my own feelings, when tax agents illegally take money,” he said. “Five thousand riel is not so much, but many people pay the overcharge. I feel bad paying the overcharge because the money comes from my own labor.”

“The agents look down on the law,” said Keo Soeun, a 65-year-old farmer from Svay Rieng province. He said he was overcharged 1,500 riel, around $0.40, for his vehicle tax. “I earn less than $1 per day, and I can spend 1,500 riel to buy salt, prahok [fish paste] and fish sauce to eat for three days.”

Pang Sameth, a 47-year-old motorcycle taxi driver in Preah Sihanouk province, said overcharging for government services has worsened his living conditions. He earns about $2 a day and supports a family of three children.

“I want the government and the Anti-Corruption Unit to take strong action against corruption,” he said. “If the tax agents continue to overcharge, it affects the legal system, the state regime and the system of government and administration,” he said. “The overcharging hurts my feelings, my spirit and my daily living.”