Dr Ka Sunbaunat
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Since the reintroduction of riels into the Cambodian economy in 1980, the banknotes have changed too many times in terms of form, size and pattern, making it difficult to recognise and remember them. Obviously, issuing riel banknotes is not based on the user’s psychological perspective, but people don’t usually look directly at the banknote’s numbers and letters. They tend to look instead at the colours, shapes and patterns on them. US dollars and EU euro banknotes, for example, can be distinguished easily by a glance. On the other hand, many riel banknotes today have similar forms, patterns and colours despite their different monetary values, which therefore confuses people. There are also problems with sizes, because some riel banknotes, such as the 100,000 riel bill, are too big, making it difficult to hold and keep in a standard size wallet.
I love using riels and I am delighted that my salary is paid in the local currency and not US dollars. I am also proud of paying with riel banknotes and I think every Cambodian should feel the same. This is because the currency is a very important part of our identity. I particularly love the designs on riel banknotes, which combine kbach (beautifying patterns) with images respecting our kings. However, our banknotes do have a hard time competing with other currencies being used in the country. Big transactions, such as real estate and vehicles, are almost always made with US dollars instead of riels. Also, in most shops, cafés and restaurants, the price tags are in US dollars and the sellers also say the prices in the foreign currency. Meanwhile, along the borders, Thai baht, Vietnamese dong and Lao kip are more popular than the country’s currency. I think the government should show more effort into promoting riel to become the sole currency in Cambodia.
A farmer in Takeo province
In rural areas such as my village, we rarely see US dollars in our daily transactions. We are used to telling the prices of everything we buy and sell in riels and it is very weird when someone suddenly says a US dollar figure. So it is safe to say that riels are the backbone of the economy in the countryside. Although, it is quite hard for us when we go to a city or town because people there want US dollars. We usually consider that one US dollar is equal to 4,000 riels, however, they ask us for kon toy (the difference in conversion rate) which can be between 100 or 200 riels for each US dollar when we pay them in riel. So the more we exchange riels for US dollars, the more we have to pay.
Cambodian people should use Cambodian currency. I am happy that the government taxes Cambodian people and businesses and charge public service fees in riels. Unlike US dollar bills, riel banknotes are still acceptable when they become old, worn-out or partially torn. When I am buying groceries at the local markets, riels always come in handy. However, it is different at the supermarkets, where most of the goods are imported and come with US dollar price tags, which means that I have to pay for the difference in conversion rates. It is also the same when I am buying top-up cards for my mobile phone.