Last week, my brother told me a story that left me unsure whether to smirk at him or shake my head at human nature.
First of all, he casually announces on Skype: “Don’t tell Mum and Dad yet, but I had a road accident.”
As someone who’s suffered the ordeal of three accidents myself (two of them were not my fault!), naturally I sat up with, “What? What happened? Are you hurt? Tell!”
Thank God he seemed all right save for slight whiplash, and after making sure he’d had it checked I started bombarding him with questions like the former nosy journalist I was. I had to egg him for answers, because my bro was being thick-headedly evasive.
“A tree hit me,” he drawled. At first he implied a tree had fallen across the road. And that he was alone.
Turns out he was just being a male too sheepish to admit he’d been driving a car with a group of friends, and they were listening and laughing at this catchy song named Black and Yellow (Warning: Known to Cause Embarassing Motor Accidents) for about 30 seconds when my bro Mart suddenly noticed he’d left the brake lock on. He couldn’t brake when he needed, and not wanting to collide into the other cars, he went over a curb, hoping the gravel there would slow his vehicle.
Not really. What did stop the car was the big mother-effing tree that embraced him like the arms of Mama Nature. He was too shocked to do anything, like, swerve.
The hood was completely totalled, and what made my bro – a Christian church youth counseller – feel especially bad was that one of the young people in the back hit his head after forgetting to belt up. Apparently the teen even blacked out a bit, and afterwards went on Facebook to change his profile picture to a badge declaring the words ‘Wear Your Seat Belt!’.
But thankfully, no one was seriously hurt.
“Oh it’s not over yet,” my bro wearily added.
As is always the case in Malaysia when you have an accident, the roaming towtruck drivers magically swooped in on the scene, offering to pull the vehicle for a discreet price to be worked out with the insurance people. My bro however had already called his dealer who would send their own towtruck. The street towtruck drivers however persisted, rattling off in Chinese, a language my brother doesn’t understand. When pestered, he claims he held up a hand to firmly but politely tell them in English he did not need their services.
One driver however took offense and started mocking him, thinking he was being snobbish. “Ohhhhh, like that one ah, ah you? Like that one, ah?” my bro mimicked for me, to my amusement.
The guy kept heckling my bro until the police arrived. The cops spent time directing traffic along and by their presence, shutting up the hecklers. My distressed bro was so grateful he later approached the policemen to thank them, only to be startled when they casually asked him for a little “contribution” for their hard work.
Unsurprised, I asked Mart what did he do.
“I pretended not to hear them and walked away,” he said.
Then the dealer’s Insurance Dude arrived, and he accompanied my bro to the police station to lodge a report. Before they went in however, Insurance Dude turned to my brother to say, “Oh by the way, this accident involves a 300 ringgit fine.” A whopping sum equivalent to US$100 or GBP£60. “But if you want, I can arrange to reduce it to 200, no problem.”
Mart, however, was sceptical. He hadn’t asked for a reduction, and what was the reason for it? My bro said No, that’s okay, he was in the wrong and he will pay the summons/fine.
Not the End of the Story
So Mart goes in to lodge the police report where they ask him the usual questions of how the accident could have possibly happened etc.
Everything squared, the cop turned to my bro to say, “Oh, by the way, if you want I can reduce the summons to 150 ringgit, no problem.”
That’s when Mart, telling me this on Skype chat, scrunches up his face to ask me, “Is there something going on in the air here!?”
A little background: The Malaysian government, promising to crack down on corruption and address the bruised reputation of the police force, have been running a series of anti-rasuah (bribery) campaigns. They spent money on anti-corruption commercials. Vowed to revamp the Anti-Corruption Agency (which has since changed his name some years ago). They’ve tokenly charged a couple of people for giving and receiving bribes, and sometimes hauled in some high-ranking blokes in government agencies for corruption – although rarely the Big Fish, one might notice. All to deter what is often seen as the Number One Problem in Malaysia.
To put this into perspective, in the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, Malaysia ranked 56 out of some 178 countries – beating Cuba, Rwanda, Italy, Romania, Brazil and Greece, but losing to nations like Saudi Arabia, Poland, South Korea, China and the US and UK.
For a while, Malaysian policemen were even required to wear ‘I am Anti-Bribe’ badges on their uniforms. Judging by the various accounts going around, this didn’t stop irony-loving cops from asking for “contributions” from motorists anyway. If these accounts were mistaken, there does seem to be an awful lot of these stories going around.
But sad to say, it’s fairly common for cops to stop a motorist further down the road for, say, speeding, and for the motorist to agree and pay something to “make the problem go away”. It happens so often it just doesn’t surprise me any more.
In any case, my bro was firmly against bribery and had the sinking feeling the policeman was going to take a cut somewhere from that “150 ringgit, no problem”. He tried to say No.
Naturally the cop asked why.
“This isn’t bribery, don’t worry!” the cop insisted in Malay. “This is how it’s done. It’s all legal. You don’t have to worry.”
I asked my bro what did he do. He was alone in a police station, in shock, whip lashed, battered, bewildered, a new father anxious to return to his baby and wife. He wasn’t exactly earning that much with his salary either.
He finally let the cop have his way.
“I wasn’t sure what to do,” he sighed. He sounded ashamed of himself.