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Potential Voters See Petty Corruption as a Major Expense

As Cambodians prepare for local elections Sunday, voters say petty corruption in their villages is very much on their mind.

Meas Sokim, a motorcycle taxi driver in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district, says he recently spent $10 to obtain his family’s record book from local authorities.

That’s the amount he earns in several days as a driver, for a service that should be free, or cost little money, he said in a recent interview. “They said it was free, but when I had it issued, I was charged.”

He could have chosen not to pay, he said, “but I need these documents for my children’s study or work.”

Other villagers in Russey Keo say they too have paid informal fees to authorities in charge of small administrative matters, in what has become a common habit in almost every corner of the country.

Failure to pay the unofficial fees means services are not rendered. But it remains to be seen whether voters will move to oust local officials they see as corrupt in the upcoming commune council election.

In Boeung Salang village, ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials declined to comment, referring questions to their superiors. Russey Keo commune officials said there have been no clear guidelines from the national government on how to curb the practice of low-level bribery.

Chan Samnang, a commune chief in the district for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said there has been nothing from the national authorities on fees for services.

“We never get anything from the higher-ups that specifies you need to pay 2,000 riel for a family record book or 1,500 riel for a residence book, for example,” she said. “But I would like to emphasize that all relevant documents sent to us by the police, I sign them without payments being made.”

Both ruling and opposition party members have been campaigning for the last two weeks, many of them promising to put an end to low-level corruption. But villagers like Meas Sokin say they doubt they’ll be able to live up to their promises.