Three traffic cops, whistle on their mouth, were waiting for me who was speeding with a pink scoopy motorbike on a joy ride last Good Friday. I could not hear the whistle, because of the traffic, but their waving hands are enough signs to pull me over.
One of the officers approached me, saluted and finally asked for my license and STNK (vehicle registration card). I gave my license, but told him l didn’t bring the STNK. The bike belongs to my wife, I said, and I forgot to carry the STNK. I knew immediately that I soon would be in trouble.
“Do you know what offense you did? He said.
“I didn’t bring the STNK.”
“No!” the cop said, “You were on the lanes verboten for two-wheel vehicles,” he said with eyes fixed on me from the elevated height of sidewalk. I chickened out under his gaze; on my bike I sat uncomfortably. “You made two traffic violations,” he added. “First, you took the forbidden lane; second, you ride without proper documentation.”
He asked me to get off from the bike. Without taking my helmet off, I followed him to a post nearby, located not far from Senayan Sport Complex, in Sudirman Street, South Jakarta. I was thinking how much money I had in my wallet, and whether I should bribe this guy.
“Pak, I would not take the lane if I saw the sign,” I said slowly and with voice toned down. Then, I told him the magic word: “I’m sorry Pak. I did not want to deliberately break the rules. I really didn’t see the sign.”
He looked at me a bit annoyed, perhaps because I still had my helmet on. But I had no idea exactly, and forget all together the thought of bribing him.
He extended his stern look for about fifteen eternal seconds then miraculously gave my license back without further ba-bo-bu-bi.
“Be careful next time,” he said, “you have one traffic offense already.”
Last year I was apprehended for taking a forbidden U-turn. I tried to make a valid excuse to the cop who caught me but he would not budge, took my license instead, and issued a ticket and an instruction how to retrieve the license. Seven days and 61,000 Rupiahs later I got my license back from South Jakarta District Court, with one tiny hole in the middle.
I had a romanticised idea of some day bribing a police, just to get the feel, as other people said can easily be done. But I never had the luxury and wonder if people are telling the truth.
For instance, when I got my SIM A (license to drive private car) seven years ago, I paid fees as officially displayed and followed standard procedures from beginning to the end in one single day without bribing anyone. In fact, at the end, when I finished the practical session and was supper happy because the test officer told me I passed, I tipped him, or my way of saying thank you, but he refused it. This, people say, is impossible: you cannot have license issued in one normal day by taking the high road. But I did.
Or, in another occasion when a police pulled me over, for, again, taking a wrong turn in Thamrin Street, Central Jakarta. But after I explained that I was only following two cars in front of me, he understood and let me go with my wallet intact. Why, because two cars I was tailing were diplomatic and red-plated (diplomatic cars, and government cars -red-plated- the officer told me was an exception). This, people say, is impossible: once a police pull you over you cannot go free without parting with your money. But I did. Twice even.
Police bribery may be not uncommon, but it happens only with our consent. Police become crooked only because we allow them to be, out of our convenience. If you want to take the shortcut, then do it honourably, putting the burden on the other side, not on you. How? Let me tell you an example from the way I got my SIM C (motorbike license).
I went straight to the Information Desk, as my first stop, when I arrived at the registration office. I told uniformed police officers who attended the Desk that I wanted to get SIM C. They gave me options: “quick” or “normal” one? After I said I wanted the “quick” one, they directed me to the next stop. Two hours, and 50% extra charge later, I got my brand new license.
There’s no way I could get my license through normal procedures because I would not pass the practical test as at that time I was being tutored by my wife to ride that automatic scooter. By law, it is illegal to ride motorbike without having license; but I cannot get the license until I know how to ride. This happens because in Indonesia we do not issue provisional license for motor learners. So I either illegally learn how to ride or take the shortcut to get the license. I took the latter one, and put the burden on the other side of the law enforcement.
This is the only problem I have with the Indonesian traffic police.