“Unofficial” tollgates taxing commercial truck drivers

March 20, 2013

HURFOM: In the past year, numerous travellers passing through Mon State and other parts of Southern Burma have regularly voiced positive reports about greatly reduced travel costs, decreased tollgate restrictions, and minimal inspection and identification checks. However, commercial truck drivers in the border area continue to allege that the government has not properly addressed corruption and extortion in the outlying areas, asserting that reforms still only benefit more urban populations.

The roughly 60 mile-long motorway that connects Mudon Township in Mon State to the Thai-Burmese border town of Three Pagodas Pass (TPP) is split by Taung Soon, an intersection near a large village that also branches southwest to Thanbyuzayat. From TPP to Taung Soon, various groups including the Karen National Union (KNU), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), Burmese Border Guard Forces, and New Mon State Party (NMSP) run an estimated seven tollgates that collect travelling taxes from passing motorists. However, it is the four “unofficial” tollgates between Taung Soon and Mudon that are drawing objections from commercial truck drivers.

“There shouldn’t be any arbitrary tax during [the country’s] transition period,” said one truck owner. “Although there are reforms in the cities, corruption still exists in the remote areas. We want the government to end corruption and extortion everywhere. The government has the right to tax but the transportation taxes charged in this way cost a lot of money, so there is little left for us while these unwelcome tollgates persist.”

Two of the four unofficial tollgates are managed by police officers, one by military troops, and the last by an unidentified group reportedly dressed in civilian clothing but carrying army-issued rucksacks. These anonymous toll collectors set up alongside a rubber plantation near Bayar Nyar Su Village, allegedly stopping trucks in the road to demand payment.

Drivers reported paying 2,000 to 3,000 Kyat at each gate, though the fee can rise to 5,000 Kyat if the toll collectors suspect the truck is illegally transporting people to Thailand. Between Taung Soon and Three Pagodas Pass, travelers pay 2,000 Kyat to the Border Guard Force (BGF), 2,000 Kyat to the DKBA and KNU, and 1,000 Kyat to the NMSP.

“Transporting [goods] in this manner is not convenient, but there is no other option for us to earn money except transportation,” said driver Nai Mg Ngae. “There is not much [profit] left for us after paying the taxes. If there is some problem, we have to use money from our own pockets to fix the truck because the [money we make] does not cover our costs.”

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