It was sometime in the late 1990's. And it was in Singapore.
A trailer driver was driving to deliver some goods to a Singaporean buyer. While doing so, he hit some tree branches which fell onto a car behind the trailer and damaged the car a little bit.
Both men stopped their respective vehicle. While they were "settling" their "dispute", a traffic police officer came by and stopped. Upon his inquiry, the trailer driver related what had happened to the officer. The officer then told the car driver that perhaps he should make a claim from his insurance company as it was not the fault of the trailer driver that his car was damaged.
Noting that the damage only involved some minor scratches, the car driver relented and drove off. The trailer driver was so relieved. He was also glad that the officer supported his case and was filled with gratitude to him.
In true Malaysian fashion, the trailer driver took out S$20 and gave it to the police officer. The police officer took it and rode off.
On the way back to Malaysia, the trailer driver was arrested at the Immigration checkpoint and detained. The next day he was charged for giving bribe to a police officer.
I was then advising the transport company for whom the driver worked. A Singaporean Counsel was engaged and he advised that it was an offence to do so. He advised the driver to plead guilty.
He did and was punished, fortunately, with just a fine, albeit a hefty one.
Fast forward to last Monday, the 3rd of May 2010.
Time: 1.15am. Location, Jalan Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
The Sun newspaper today (6th May 2010), at page 4, reported of two incidents at a police road block along Jalan Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. The report is entitled "Cop held over alleged bribery, sexual harassment."
The first lady was driving alone at 1.15am when she was stopped at the roadblock. The police said she was driving beyond the speed limit. According to her the police officer said the matter could be settled on the spot. She then offered RM15 and the officer agreed to take that sum as "settlement".
Money exchanged hand. The officer than allegedly told her that she was sexy. He allegedly asked her to lift her t-shirt and pull up her skirts. She immediately drove off.
But not before she performed her side of the agreed bargain. She paid him the 15 bucks and drove off.
Next was a nightclub singer about 30 minutes later. The same thing happened. This time the lady gave RM20. The same officer allegedly made similar advances. The lady also paid him off and drove off.
It was reported that the two women were "riled over the incidents."
The report however does not specify whether the two ladies were "riled" over the alleged sexual harassment and the fact that the officer had allegedly asked them for money or whether both of them were only "riled" over the alleged sexual harassment alone.
However, the MP for Cheras, Tan Kok Wai, whose help was sought by the two ladies, was quoted as saying:
"It is shocking to note that there are such sex maniacs in the police force. I believe these two cases may not be the first and many more may have gone unreported."
The above statement only touches on the sexual harassment and the fact that there are, in the good MP's words, "sex maniacs" in the police force. Nothing is said whatsoever about the bribery.
It is as if the YB did not even feel that the bribery was an offence. It is as if the bribery demanded by the officer - if it was true - and offered by the two ladies are not issues which he was supposed to highlight apart from the sexual harassment.
I could also surmise from the report that the two ladies were "riled" up because of the alleged sexual harassment and nothing else. The fact that they willingly paid the police officer - according to what was reported - without even thinking twice that they were actually committing a serious offence under our law is a cause to be concerned with.
It is as if bribery, in Malaysia, is an accepted practice and has become a national culture of sort. It is as if bribery is not an offence and is a way of life over here.
Would I be wrong to suggest here that those two incidents would not have been reported at all had the officer not been a horny dude with a perverted mind?
I don't think I would be wrong. I can bet that the two ladies would not have even said a single word to the press had the incident only consist of the police officer asking for a bribe.
From the report it is obvious that the ladies did not hesitate to hand over RM15 and RM20 respectively to the officer. No outcry was ever made in the press report about the bribe. It was the alleged sexual harassments that caused the report.
The surprising - and disconcerting - thing is this. Even the Member of Parliament did not see it fit to express any outrage over the bribe given by the two ladies!
The MACC recently had made an announcement of sort that it is also going to target the bribe giver in the future. I think that is a good move. But of course, MACC is so tainted with partiality allegations that nobody even care to give it any kind of attention, let alone trust. And we can only hope that it changes colour. That would be nothing less than a miracle!
Contrast the KL story with the one from Singapore. See the "cultural differences" between the two.
The trailer driver was just being a normal Malaysian who felt grateful to the police officer. He then gave him money. It was unsolicited. Nor was it intended to be any form of inducement to the police officer as the money was given after the event.
Nevertheless, the police officer stuck by the law. He took it and promptly reported the case. That very same day the trailer driver was arrested at the checkpoint.
The thing which we may miss from these two stories is the fact that in Singapore, abiding by the law is a culture while in Malaysia breaching the law is a culture.
Generally, when it comes to offering a bribe to the police or breaching traffic laws, Malaysians do not even blink to think about the fact that bribery is serious offence and that they are committing an offence.
Think about it. Do we Malaysians think that jumping que at a traffic light is an offence? Or giving "duit kopi" or "settling the matter" with the police or whatever authorities is an offence? No. The law against bribery is irrelevant and insignificant to us. Traffic laws are also mere ornament in law libraries.
It is a cultural thing as opposed to we being habitual offenders. If we were habitual offenders, why is it that we would not do such things when we are in Singapore or the UK? Why do we suddenly abide by their laws? Do we suddenly change into a law abiding person because of geographical differences?
The answer is when we are there we are not abiding by their laws. We are just following their culture. If we don't line up at the ATM in the UK, the British would tap on our shoulder and we would promptly be told off. We would be embarrassed. That is all. We do not suddenly change into a law abiding person while we are there.
On the other hand, when we are in Jakarta or Bangkok, why is it that we do not abide by their laws? If we drive in those two cities, we would surely breach their traffic laws as we do in Malaysia? The answer is obvious. We remain true to ourselves in Jakarta or Bangkok because their road culture is the same with ours. It is as simple as that.
Corruption being a Malaysian culture, no amount of enforcement of the law and no increase in the severity of the punishment would ever turn us around. If we are drug addicts for example, no amount of punishment would change us. Unless our values are changed.
The authorities must recognise this fact. And they must appreciate this fact if they are serious in combating corruption.
It is in the attitude. The values. The culture. And not simply in the laws and their enforcement.