There's no denying that corruption is one aspect of life in Cambodia and anyone living and visiting here will have to deal with it to some extent at some point. To be fair, Cambodia is not unique in the prevalence of corruption but being a considerably less developed nation than say, the USA, corruption here hasn't yet taken on the subtle characteristics one encounters in more sophisticated economies in the west.
The problem is where does one draw the line? Do you cave in to every demand made for a kickback or bribe? Do you indignantly refuse to pay any tea money under any circumstance? Or do you learn to play the system paying what you have to pay and knowing when to say no. Most people would say you learn to play the system. The problem lies in the fact that not everyone can agree on how to do this.
What follows are a series of, err, hypothetical scenarios that involve some form of corruption. Think about what you would do in each situation and then read my responses. Do keep in mind that there are a lot of grey areas and my answers are not necessarily the final definitive answer. My answers are only my opinion based on a few years of playing the system and learning what does and doesn't work.
If you wish to make any comments about this section and the answers I've provided, e-mail me. Intelligent responses will be published.
1.) You're arriving overland from Thailand as a tourist. It's your first visit to Cambodia and you're entering at Poipet. You've heard a tourist visa is $20 but you may be asked to pay 1000 baht (presently about $24) and you're prepared to pay this. Upon arrival at the visa services window you are requested to pay 1300 baht (about $31.25). What do you do? Could this be considered an acceptable practice on the part of the immigration officers?
2.) You've recently set up business in Cambodia. You purchased a one-month business visa which is the only business visa available, and you need now to extend it. You desire a one-year multiple-entry extension. You have two choices. You can pay the official fee of approximately $150, fill in some forms and produce some documents none of which you will get right the first time or even the second time. Once you get the paperwork right you'll wait at least three to four weeks to get your passport back. Your second choice is to pay an agent $280 handing over only your passport and a photograph. Your passport is returned to you the following day with a valid one-year multiple-entry business visa extension. Which do you choose? What about the ethics of this arrangement?
3.) You've been pulled over by the police for making an illegal left turn on your motorbike. You're guilty. They ask for $20. What do you do?
4.) You've been arrested for having sex with a twelve-year-old (I know, I know, but this is a piece about corruption and including the legal system is certainly within the realm here - would you rather I made you a murderer or drug smuggler? I choose pedophilia because it elicits the most emotion from people - anyway, allow me to continue). Okay, you've been busted. You're guilty, but you'll never admit it. The evidence is a little shaky. While not enough to convict you in a court back home in Australia, it'll suffice in the less transparent proceedings of a Cambodia courtroom. The worst-case scenario is twenty years in jail. Your lawyer suggests to you that if you can come up with $40,000 in cash the victim won't testify and you won't be convicted. If you don't raise the cash you'll serve some portion of your sentence partially connected to how much money you were able to raise. No money = 20 years. A few grand, maybe 10 years. $10K and you're out in five. You raise the full $40K, make the payment and walk free. Has justice been served?
5.) You're involved in a bad traffic accident. It's not your fault and there are witnesses to support this. The other driver flees but his identity is known to a witness who is helpful to you and gives the name and address to the police. The police ask you for $50 to investigate the case, and you can assume, rule in your favor. Do you pay?
6.) You're in a bar having a lively discussion with another expat when it turns into an argument and the other expat, considerably larger than you, assaults you knocking out two teeth and blackening your eye. You report him to the police who bring him in and a bodysearch turns up $150 in his pocket. They take the money and give it to you. Do you give them any in return?
7.) You own a bar. The local fire police come to your premises one day with an official requisition form for two cases of beer which they expect to receive for free. What do you do? (Don't laugh, this really happened!)
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.