Saturday, February 7, 2009

A case of pay late and get 50% discount?

Feb 5, 2009

By Lu Su Bo

AFTER coming down to Johor Baru to attend to a matter, I drove around the city centre several times but failed to find a parking lot. Without obstructing anyone, I took the risk of parking my car at the roadside, thinking I would return quickly. I didn't think I would be so 'lucky' as to receive a parking summons.

As luck would have it, when I came back five minutes later, I saw a ticket tucked under the windscreen wiper. I could only lament that I was out of luck.

I told Old Lee about my unlucky encounter.

'I sympathise with you. I, too, have many unpaid summonses,' he replied lightly.

'What's to be done?' I asked.

He continued nonchalantly: 'Having been a driver for so long, I would settle my fines only if the Transport Ministry threatens not to renew my driving licence. As for parking summonses issued by the municipal council, you can ignore them!'

Surprised, I said: 'How could you do such a thing? Aren't you afraid that your fines will be doubled? Worse still, you may even be arrested and given a heavy sentence by a municipal court.'

Old Lee laughed and replied: 'Haven't you heard of this phrase that is making the rounds - 'Singapore double, Malaysia offer'?'

Not knowing its meaning, I shook my head.

'Young man, our laws are not as strict and impartial as theirs. Here, things move slowly and everything can be lebih kurang (bargained).

'In the end, we can get not only an extended grace period for payment but also a 50 per cent discount off the fine! So, there is no need to rush, just have to wait for the day when you can get off the hook with ease.'

He did not forget to remind me that should I settle the fine early, I would not enjoy the 50 per cent discount and may also be mocked for being a fool. Being law-abiding and timid, I did not accept his advice, but what he described is actually happening here.

Our Transport Ministry and municipal councils issue countless summonses, but those that are paid on time are few. Many people behave exactly as Old Lee described: They tend to withhold payment and disregard the fines until the authorities pick an 'auspicious' day to announce a 50 per cent discount. The government is pleased to see long lines of people waiting to settle their fines. While those in the queue may complain about the long wait, they are also secretly happy that their burden has been lightened.

The traffic police once caused a stir by knocking on the doors of offenders who had not paid their fines. However, the fervour of the police evaporated soon after and their action failed to have any deterrent effect.

It is precisely because of such disregard for the law that the number of people who owe fines is increasing and the government has to write off millions of ringgit of outstanding fines. Not only are locals unwilling to settle their fines, even Singaporean visitors have seen through our weakness and pay no attention to the summonses issued by our law enforcement officers.

In contrast, laws in Singapore are strictly and impartially enforced. Regardless of whether the offender is a Singaporean or foreigner, he or she is dealt with once a law is breached. If the fine remains unpaid, the offender may have to pay a heavy price - either by having his fine doubled or by going to court. The choice is up to the offender. Aren't you afraid?

Malaysia and Singapore are separated by just a strip of water but their methods of collecting fines are so different. Hence, some people have coined this phrase, 'Singapore double, Malaysia offer' to poke fun at us. I wonder how our government feels upon hearing it.

As I was writing this article, I heard the good news that mobile counters set up by the Johor Baru municipal council are offering a 50 per cent discount on the payment of fines. Johor Baru residents do not realise how 'blessed' they are. Singaporeans must be so envious of them.

This commentary appeared in Sin Chew Jit Poh, a Malaysian Chinese-language daily, on Feb 1.

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