I was told this is in response to the police confiscating motorcycles and demanding to be paid USD250-USD300 to release the bikes. If true, it is an outrage, as the fine (see below) for driving a vehicle without a licence plate is stated to be between 25,000 and 200,000 riels (USD6-48). Furthermore, new bikes cost less than USD2000 and second-hand ones as little as USD400 and a license ordinarily costs only USD30 for motos and USD60 for cars.
[Update 26 July: Another reason for the protest, it was reported in yesterday's Khmer newspapers is the exorbitant vehicle taxes. Thyda's sister's new motobike for instance, costs USD950 but she is expected to pay USD600 in taxes because hers is a newer model (2007). She had bought the bike imported from Thailand for USD950 but if you buy from a retailer in Cambodia, the retailer will include the taxes and the motobike will cost at least USD1600. The people are upset because the police do not care even if you had paid USD300 for your second-hand motorcycle. As long as it is a 2005 model or newer, the tax is USD600. The people say if they had this kind of money, they would have bought a better bike in the first place. They are asking for taxes to be reduced: USD50 for bikes older than 2003 and USD100 for those newer than that.
The protests were more organised than I had realised - they took place in other provinces in Cambodia, not just in Siem Reap. The other towns were at the border with Thailand and Vietnam and one more I could not confirm.]
Since Aug 1, traffic police all over Cambodia have been aggressive in their efforts to enforce the land traffic law. I have noticed the policemen all over town now, even standing guard at the entrance of the dirt road leading to my house. All in the hopes of pulling over recalcitrant drivers.
"We are not just imposing this law out of nowhere," Interior Minister Sar Kheng told the Phnom Penh Post (Vehicles to be confiscated, July 31). He noted that the law had been approved by the National Assembly in 2007 and that his ministry had issued a directive in June stating that it would step up enforcement of the law on August 1. "The people should know. We informed them one month ago to be cautious."
Quoted from the Post:
Motorbike drivers caught riding without helmets will be given the option of purchasing a helmet on the spot or having their bikes confiscated.Sar Kheng had anticipated many infractions and asked then for 1-2 hectares of land to store confiscated vehicles.
Any vehicle being driven without a licence plate or side mirrors will be confiscated, and drivers will be required to pay fines for infractions as well as a fee of 20,000 riels (US$4.75) for vehicle storage. The vehicle will only be released when it is fully equipped with a license plate and mirrors.
Under Article 79 of the Land Traffic Law, driving a vehicle without a licence plate incurs a fine of between 25,000 and 200,000 riels ($6-$48).
Under Article 88, driving a motorbike without a helmet incurs a fine of 3,000 riels."
Apparently he was not wrong. Traffic law nets 60000 vehicles (out of which 300 are cars), reports the Post on the 17 Aug.
Of course it is a good thing trying to initiate some order on Cambodia's roads. Road deaths in Cambodia average 4 a day. If you stop to think about it, in general, accidents happen because people don't follow rules. If people followed rules, we'd be able to anticipate their actions and respond accordingly.
But some are in denial. Hem Ya, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Police Commissariat, tells the Post in the 17th Aug interview: "I think that so far, 80 percent of Cambodian people respect the traffic law" '. 80% - surely you jest, sir. Don't they say admission of the problem is the first step to a solution?
But I was glad to see some are paying attention:
[Mayor of Phnom Penh] Kep Chuktema said he believed City Hall needed to implement additional measures to make the roads safer, including relocating businesses set up on city sidewalks.It's time something was done to these inconsiderate drivers who park their cars and motorcycles on sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to step off the curb and into traffic. The worst are those that park their precious cars under the shade on sidewalks, so pedestrians have to walk in the rain. You get these idiots everywhere, including Singapore.
"The people running their businesses on the sidewalks park their cars on the roads next to them, which makes the roads in Phnom Penh become narrow," he said. "This is a problem we have to solve in order to avoid traffic congestion."
The tuktuk drivers tell me today's protest did not produce desired results so another one is planned. I'll go with Phoen when that happens.