Cambodian lawyers have hit out at an officer from the Finance Ministry’s tax department after he compared them to cows in a post on Facebook.
The comments followed a government seminar on tax obligations for lawyers on Thursday, attended by more than 200 lawyers at the Bar Association headquarters in Phnom Penh.
During the seminar, several lawyers raised their hands and made comments to a government officer over the issue of lawyers paying tax, which turned into a verbal argument.
Later that day, Vann Puthipol, deputy director-general of the Taxation Department, posted on Facebook to say his superiors had assigned him to herd a group of cows back into their stable.
He said most of the cows had gone into their stable without making a fuss, apart from three – a black and white cow, a brown cow, and a cow with uneven horns.
“Those cows wanted to kick me. Let me ask you all, should those three have their noses pierced with a ring and be hit with a cattle prod?” Mr Puthipol asked on his Facebook page.
The post went viral and lawyers across the country claimed it was an insult to their dignity.
After the backlash, Mr Puthipol wrote on Facebook to say the post was a misunderstanding and was not about lawyers but about officials who work with him.
Lawyer Ly Chantola rejected Mr Puthipol’s assertion that the Facebook post was not aimed at his profession.
“What he posted on his Facebook was apparently to target lawyers who made comments that made him emotional during the seminar,” he said.
Mr Chantola said he had filed a complaint with Phnom Penh Municipal Court over the insults.
“We filed a complaint with the court regarding his Facebook post comparing us with animals. We consider it as a serious insult to lawyers, who are learned and knowledgeable persons. It affects lawyers throughout the country,” he said.
He added that Mr Puthipol could be fined up to $2,500 if he is convicted of insulting lawyers.
An official from tax department who declined to be named said most local lawyers do not pay their taxes, since the majority of payments received from the sector come from lawyers of foreign nationalities.
He said the government needs tax revenue from lawyers to develop the country, while those in the legal profession have a moral duty to pay tax according to the law.
“I wish law firms and legal offices would pay the proper tax to the government,” the official said.