Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saman Ekor, a Double Edge Sword

Almost every motorist in Malaysia has been caught. The reasons vary from reckless disregard, to emergency, to simple practicality.

Whatever the reason, Malaysians have been given a reprieve to settle their speeding summons or "saman ekor" by the end of February 2011, thus allowing Malaysians to renew their driving licences, insurances and road taxes.

The reprieve was given as a result of a public outcry over the injustice of saman ekor as well as its sheer inconvenience. It could also signal the doing away of saman ekor almost entirely if there were enough popular pressure.

Among the reasons given by the Federal Government that saman ekor is preferable to on-the-spot interaction between traffic police and traffic offenders is that it reduces the incidence of bribery.

On the flip-side, the sheer inconvenience of appearing in court to defend oneself means that one would be more inclined to simply settle a saman ekor despite the fact that one had a reasonable excuse for speeding.

So, the fact of the matter is, there needs to be balance between saman ekor and the actual pulling over of traffic offenders by the traffic police.

Avoidance of bribery should not be an excuse to not allow traffic offenders to plead their case with traffic police officers, simply because people may have a valid reason for going over the speed limit, such as emergencies and pressing matters related to their jobs, e.g. journalism and broadcasting.

Also, if the Government does not want the police to be tempted to accept bribes, it should not merely try to limit the public's interaction with traffic police personnel, but instead pay those police officers well enough, such that they would not be easily tempted to take bribes.

At the same time, one can appreciate saman ekor as a disciplining tool that helps to reduce traffic accidents, especially during festive seasons. It would be simply impractical to pull over traffic offenders by the hundreds during balik kampung season.

Whatever the case, the Government must not appear to be opportunistically increasing its income through the collection of saman ekor payments. This cannot be the objective of saman ekor to begin with because it would be a form of indirect tax applied randomly to tax payers, which goes against the principles of natural justice.

In that regard, speed limits on highways and byways must be realistically set according to scientific research on the relationship between speed and road accidents on particular types of roads. As it is, there appears to be too many roads in Malaysia with unrealistic speed limits, e.g. 80 Kph on 4-lane highways that are mostly straights or 60 Kph on well-constructed byways that gently meanders.

In short, it's time to revisit the proper uses of saman ekor as well as the proper speed limits of highways and byways. As the recent outcry against saman ekor shows, the current system is broken and it won't help the Federal Government win votes.

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