More than 20 taxi drivers hired to transport goods from Poipet to Sisophon city gathered yesterday to protest mobile checkpoints they say are extorting money from them.
The drivers congregated in front of the Finance Ministry’s mobile customs office branch in Banteay Meanchey province.
Roth Kamsoth, 37, one of the drivers, said they protested the fact that three mobile checkpoints were recently created in the 48 kilometres separating Poipet from Sisophon city.
He said he was required to pay mobile customs officers $10 each time he encountered them.
The checkpoints were installed following the appointment of Puth Sokha as the new head of the ministry’s mobile customs office.
Mr Kamsoth said the requirement to pay money and the time wasted at checkpoints was making it difficult for taxi drivers to do their jobs. They asked to go back to paying 600,000 riel ($150) per month for customs, as it was before the mobile checkpoints, and to reduce the number of checkpoints.
“The new head of the ministry’s mobile customs created these checkpoints, and knew taxi drivers like us could not afford it. We have to pay $10 every time we cross one, it is very difficult for us,” he said.
Men Phearum, another taxi driver, said they were only hired to transport goods, and got only up to 100,000 riel ($25) per ride. Therefore, they were not able to pay the many mobile checkpoints.
“We would like to pay customs officers monthly like we did in the past, and for them to reduce the number of checkpoints so we don’t waste time,” he said.
Mr Sokha declined to comment.
According to the taxi drivers, mobile customs officers said they would resolve the case on Wednesday. The drivers have warned they would block National Road 5 if no solution is found.
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said the goods the drivers were transporting from warehouses in Poipet were already checked by Camcontrol.
Mr Chankea said the ministry’s mobile customs office should not place so many checkpoints and require drivers to pay so much.
“Our country has laws that need to be enforced. If the checkpoints are put in place to collect money from taxi drivers we could lose national tax revenues,” he said.
The drivers have protested several times already and accused customs officers of setting the checkpoints to extort money from them.
In response, customs officials and provincial authorities claimed they put the checkpoints in place because the drivers transport tax-evading goods.