Chicken or fish
I got on the plane and found my seat. Next to me was an elderly gentleman. Grey hair, nice batik shirt. Awfully familiar face although I still couldn't remember where I saw him before.
While waiting for the plane to take off, I emptied my bulging shirt pocket to organize it a bit. Boarding pass stub, money, receipts, and oh yes: traffic violation ticket that I got from the police an hour ago. How annoying.
"Traffic ticket?" asked the gentleman next to me with a friendly smile.
"Yes. I was in a hurry driving to the airport and there was this roundabout with time restriction on it... I made a wrong turn..."
"Ah, yes. Happens all the time. So you asked for a ticket? Didn't play along and pay a bribe. You opted to go to court. What a good man."
I didn't answer. Not sure if he really meant it or just being sarcastic.
In the meantime, the plane took off.
"It's a terribly inefficient system." the gentleman said after a while.
"That. Think about it. You didn't crash into other people's car, you didn't do drunk driving, you didn't cause any harm to anybody. You made a turn at a wrong time. It's an honest mistake. Yet they took your driver license, and you have to go to court to pay the fine and get your license back.
Imagine how many people will have to push the papers because of this. The police department will have to process it, then submit it to the court, where more people will have to process it so that everything is ready when you go there.
All this people, pushing papers. For what? Just because you made a turn at a wrong time."
He has a point. I never really thought of it that way.
"It's understandable if you made a serious violation. But simple ones like parking at a wrong place or a broken brakelight... do we really have to go to court for this and waste everybody's time? Imagine all the productivity lost. Now you will have to be there all day instead of doing your work..."
"True. So what do you suggest?" I asked. Curious.
"Ideally, they don't need to take away your license. Just give you a ticket and let you go. You can then pay your fine at a bank somewhere, and done with it. It should be as simple as that."
"But..." the gentleman continued, "Do you know what will happen if we do it this way?"
"Some people will ignore the ticket and do not pay?"
"Exactly. And why is that?" asked the gentleman, seemingly very happy that I was willing to play along.
"Because the police did not have anything to force us to pay. The reason why they took my driver license hostage is because that is the only way to force me to pay the fine."
"True, but that is not the whole story. After all, they wrote down your license plate number. They can still track you down."
"Yes, but not all cars are registered in the owners' name. My car for example, I bought it second hand and it is still in the previous owner's name... So if they track me down, they'll get the previous owner..."
"Exactly. Now we're getting closer to the root of the problem. It's not a matter of giving traffic ticket per se. So young man, why didn't you switch the car registration to your name?"
"Err.. mostly because it's expensive... and some say it's bureaucratic. I've never done it myself, to be honest."
"So we should make it easier to do, and cheaper."
"That's not going to happen. The government wants all the money they can get..." I answered.
"Ah, young man. Look at it this way. Let's say they make the registration very easy to do and only takes 10 minutes. And they cut the fee in half. That's 50% off.
I am willing to bet that the number of people who go to change their car registration to their name can easily triple. Cut the fee in half, but you get three times more business. The government actually will make more.
Not to mention the benefit of having the cars on the street all registered to the rightful owner. If anybody failed to pay their traffic fine before the deadline, the police can track them down and slap even more hefty fines. More money for the government."
I nodded. Make sense.
The gentleman continued:
"With all the money goes to the government, we can then use some of it to take care of our policemen. This folks work day and night at polluted streets. It's also a dangerous job. We have to take care of them better. With the money we can also provide them with better equipments: better communication devices, computers, cameras, better cars and motorcycles. In the end they will work better and can catch even more traffic violators and bring even more money for the government.
And us, when we made a mistake, we will be happy to pay the fine because: one, we don't have to waste our time going to court and two, we know the money will all go to the government.
The police department and the court of justice will be happy too. Less papers to push. Less work. They can focus on more important cases."
"Sounds good," I said. "So why is it not being done? Why are we stuck with this inefficient system?"
"Think of it this way: It's just like when we have our reformasi."
"Yes. Before we have our democracy, some of us were doing very well under Suharto. They made a lot of money, building even more businesses and make even more money. So when the people wanted Suharto out, they initially resisted. Life is good, why change? It's understandable. They did not want to lose their investment, their business, everything that they have worked for to achieve.
But guess what. Now that we have our democracy, this same people are now doing just as good, if not even better. Most of them are just as rich, if not richer because of the reformasi. Now even they don't want to go back to dictatorship.
Same thing with all this traffic fine system. Some people are actually doing well with the current system. Making good money out of this inefficiency. They don't want to lose it.
But if we ask for it, pressure the parliament and make it happen, this same people will later see that they will do just fine if not better under a reformed system.
We just have to help them to see it. And to make this happen, we the people have to ask for it. Demand it. Just like we demand our reformasi."
What a passionate old man, I thought.
The gentleman took a deep breath.
"It's nice to dream, isn't it. " He chuckles.
"Yes sir. It is."
Then a stewardess came with a trolley, waking both of us from our dream.
"Chicken or fish, sir? ... And what would you like to drink?"