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Duit Kopi, Bribery and the Royal Malaysian Police

The whys and hows of fighting lawlessness and petty corruption.

Written by johnleemk on 12:12:54 pm May 31, 2007.

Today while with a few of my friends, I saw yet another police operation in progress — the efficient operation of extorting money from assorted lawbreakers at a convenient roadside area.

The friend who was driving happened to be taking a U-turn at a slightly less than safe speed, and so muttered something along the lines of "Shit, I forgot the police like to stop people at this area. A friend of mine kena saman once while driving around here."

Nobody thought this to be particularly unusual — in this country, where the police operate is rarely a surprise — until someone thought to ask "Wait, kena saman, or bribed?"

Indignantly, the driver replied, "Of course bribed lah! You think anyone actually kena saman is it? That book of tickets the officers have probably lasts them five years. It'd probably last longer if there wasn't a crony making money from printing ticket books."

That got me thinking — why is our society so susceptible to this problem of the police taking duit kopi and letting people go, instead of summoning them as they should?

The obvious thing to blame is culture — but is our culture innately susceptible to such anarchistic practices? Our culture has to come from somewhere, and I think the main problem is the lack of leadership in the police.

The police leadership is simply reluctant to crack down on police officers with certain illegal extracurricular activities. There is no attempt to hold accountable those who take bribes, no attempt to find out who takes bribes.

Then, combine this with the incredible inconvenience of having to pay a fine — a rather time-consuming and tricky process due to our mountains of red tape and inefficient civil service — and the horribly low salaries of policemen, and it's no surprise that policemen and the public are so eager to undermine law and order.

So how would we put an end to this? Since we know the causes, the solutions are simple — better pay for the police, more accountability from the leadership, a simpler and streamlined process for paying fines.

There will always be incentives for people to give and take bribes. But that isn't a reason to give people more reasons to participate in the fragmentation of the rule of law. What good is the law if it is not enforced? A society where people think nothing of getting out of a speeding ticket will, in the end, become a society where people think nothing of getting out of a murder sentence.