Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Of Cops And Corruption

Growing up, I’ve always heard about the rampant woes of corruption that were inconspicuously married to the police department in Malaysia. I’ve heard that bribes of anything from cigarettes to money to dignity could be the perfect compensation for any traffic offence from speeding to drink driving.

And they are true, because I finally witnessed the blunt of this gross reality that perhaps the servants of these institutions are simply ‘bending’ the law because corruption is a means to sustain a living. Or that perhaps setting up road blocks is just a past time not aimed to deter drink driving, but to make money.

Corrupt traffic police officers are no national secret, unlike Area 54, Roswell, Iraqi nuclear warheads and Hong Kong shrimp dumplings. It is blatant coffee shop topic and banter, and possibly more prevalent in Malaysian local context than Twitter or Facebook will ever be.

In such corruption, defines everything that capitalism stands for, that ultimately, money is everything. And it is no wonder that I see the people here drink and drive with such impunity as long as they have a couple of hundreds in their pockets that will miraculously become talisman that will guide them home, or at least ensure a safe enough passage.

At the rate we were drinking, it would have been an offence to even hold your car keys in Singapore. But this was Kuala Lumpur, home to cool restaurants, complicated roads and where consequences sometimes never catches up to you.

When we finished at the last bar on the outskirts of KLCC, we already had 2 bottles of whisky between the 6 of us. It was a point where no one should be driving, or even peeing without assistance, but I saw that nonchalant defiance of all traffic laws in their eyes and I knew that drink driving was a mandatory curriculum when it comes to driving, along with road rage, talking on handphone and illegal parking.

RO was my designated driver, so he was a lot more discerning with the drinks but from what I learnt about rate of alcohol absorption is that you are fucked anyway if you take more than 8 glasses. If there was a road block, he was going to fail it.

10 minutes into our drive on the expressway, we saw blinking beacons in the distant. In Singapore, if you had that much to drink, the lights are actually an indication for you to jump out the car and make a desperate swim for the causeway. Here, it just means you have to make a trip to the ATM the morning after.

Calmly, he started removing cash from his wallet and furtively began slotting them into various compartments of his car. He was driving a hatchback proton that looked like it was a stunt car for the Fast and the furious, so it was practically a mobile bulls-eye.

The whole conversation played out in Malay, so I had no idea what was going on until RO fed me the post event subtitles, but this was basically what went down after we got pulled over.

RO failed both the breathalyzer test, or as what some of the other locals have told me, these test are sometimes rigged, so having an orange juice can sometimes have the same effect as drinking a whole bottle of tequila.

RO: “So how now?”
Cop: “
RM5,000. If not we go to police station.”
RO: “
I don’t have RM5,000. Why don’t we go to the station.”
Cop: “
RM1,000?”

This was better than the Great Singapore sale. Freedom was having a discount day out and normally I would jump at a grand for having an ‘unblemished’ driving record, but I would soon be taken on a practical course of handling cops in Malaysia. All I needed was a classroom, a notepad and this would have qualified as Corruption Handling 101.

RO: “I don’t have.”
Cop: “
You have ATM card? I can drive you to the ATM

Apparently ATM’s are last options because when they see how much you have in your bank account, they are going to cleave you for all that’s worth.

Cop: “Ask your friend if he has money.”
RO: “
He’s from Singapore. Do you want to give him a bad impression of Malaysia?!”
Cop: “
How about cigarettes?”

I had no idea what was transpiring between the both of them all this time because I wasn’t born with subtitling capabilities and neither did my iPhone come with one, so I did what I do best when I am confused; I started playing Angry Birds.

RO started emptying his wallet and held the cash just below the window frame. The cop took a glance of it and started to walk off shortly after.

RO: “He wants RM500 now. I just told him this is all I got and if he doesn’t want it, he can take us to the station.”
Me: “
We can start hyperventilating now to lower your BAC.”

It was like a game of bluff, RO was calling his dare and only because he knows that this is a staple in KL. It’s about taking whatever bribe that was available or upholding justice and wasting your night doing paperwork.

The cop finally came back and settled for RM150. So that is the price of freedom.

If you actually put that in perspective, they are probably more lucrative than the ERP system because from what I’ve seen about the frivolous caution that the locals practice when it comes to drink driving, he is probably going to make enough for a night to buy over Batam by Christmas.

I'm not implying that every cop in Malaysia is corrupted, God forbid. I believe there are your John Waynes, Rambos and Edward Nortons who are clad in justice trying to better the police department. It's just that I've heard alot of stories from the locals and it's amusing because they talk about it like it is normalized into their routine of life.

I can’t say I hate that system because every wrong can be made right with the right price. It’s like you don’t need to cry over spilt milk there because you can simply mop it up and have it for breakfast again.

But my civic consciousness is knocking against my conscience, or maybe it’s that one too many drunk driving posters about shattering lives or maybe it’s that one poster in Australia that said, “If you drink and drive, you die”, but in any case, we should leave the driving to the cabbies, even if their meters are coincidentally always spoilt.

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