Monday, 23 November 2009

Corruption is a two-player game

Corruption is a two-player game
Malaysian Insider

NOV 22 — Malaysians are a funny lot. We’ll rant and rave about institutional corruption yet have no qualms whatsoever partaking in bribery on a personal level. One minute it’s PKFZ this, double-tracking that but the moment we get pulled over by the coppers for any number of the traffic infractions we commit in a day, we see nothing wrong in slipping the guy a RM50 note to “make him go away.”

Sometimes we even take a perverse sense of pride in how “easy” it is to negotiate the pitfalls of our local traffic laws. Many a time, we will proudly declare to foreigners “Malaysia no problem wan, if get caught can settle!” It’s not so much that we even say this, but more the wicked satisfaction with which we tell all and sundry about something that cannot possibly be any source of dignity whatsoever.

“Settle? What do you mean ‘settle’?” is the near-inevitable reply. This is where we not only regale them with tales of rampant corruption but also “teach” them the wily ways to avoid “overpaying.” Some even go as far as giving them a Lonely Planet guide on how much should be offered: “If parking, you offer RM20. If speeding, RM50 can already. Drink-driving, aiyoh, that wan expensive!”

I readily admit that I used to be part of the “everything can settle” crowd. Each time I see flashing blue lights in my rear-view mirror, I make a quick mental note of how much it will cost to pay the fine and adjust my opening gambit to suit. It was just... easier.

One day, however, I snapped. It had been a particularly long day and the country was in some turmoil with the Kampung Medan riots then. I was on my way home when a car runs a red light and nearly T-bones me.

Like all good Malaysians, I offer him a good dose of my extra-loud horn and a quick one-fingered salute, before proceeding straight into a waiting roadblock. Mental check: No bats, knives, swords, guns, or dead bodies in the trunk so I should sail right through this.

Then the man approaching my window drops the bomb of a line: “Encik tadi langgar lampu merah.”

What. The. Fish.

At that point in time, there would have been no possible way for me to hold him in lower esteem. The scum that sticks to the scum that sticks to the scrapings from the bottom of the shoes you throw away would have been a better thing.

I hand him my licence and proceed to close the window. He knocks. I crack it open enough to let in some air. “Dari mana?” he asks, like he gives a toss. “Sana,” I answer as I flick my thumb vaguely in the direction from where I came.

He seems taken aback by the aloofness but soldiers on nonetheless, “Pergi mana?” “Sana,” I say as I casually wave a hand towards where I want to go. I develop a sudden fascination with my radio to avoid having to hurt my eyes looking at him so he wanders off to speak to what looks like his “senior.” Some minutes later, he saunters back.

“Ni kena saman, ni.” There’s so much false concern in his voice for my sudden “misfortune” that I can barely keep my dinner down. So I flash him my biggest, friendliest smile and say: “Ye ke? Kalau kena tu, kenalah, kan?”

That’s not how the script goes and it catches him off guard. He stands there pretending to scribble in his notepad. Before long, he goes to confer with his “senior.” He comes back, knocks on my window, and hands me my licence. Then he says, “Saman tu kita hantar kat rumah.” I give him the same wide smile as I drive off.

From that day on, I vowed never to directly give him and his ilk another single sen. Instead, I just take whatever ticket that’s coming and pay that instead. You’d be surprised, more often than not they don’t even bother writing one when the shakedown has clearly failed.

It’s a simple concept to live by: You do the crime, you pay the fine. Obviously this demands a certain degree of pain and sacrifice on your part in terms of money and time, but is there really any other way to go about it?

People try to bribe their way out of trouble because it’s “easier” but is this any different to the undeserving contractor who offers kickbacks to secure a project he’s not qualified to receive, instead of actually bringing himself to meet the standards actually required or match the prices his competitors offered? Isn’t he just taking the “easy” way out, too?

Corruption also doesn’t happen in isolation; it takes at least two to play. There’s the corruptor and the corrupted. The bribe giver and the bribe seeker. And corruption is corruption, regardless of whether there’s RM50 in it or RM50 million.

So the next time you feel tempted to take the “easy” way out, think hard about what it really means. You may not have had a similarly encouraging experience as mine so I can only implore you to join me in saying no to the corruption that we can. We might not be able to personally do much about the things like PKFZ or frivolous Disneyland trips but we can surely do at least this much.

So, are you going to stay a part of the problem? Or will you choose to be part of the solution?

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