My work as a grower, transporter, deliveryman and retailer means I have to work seven day weeks driving my now battered Tata Pickup laden with produce on the long and tiring journeys at night from Hingurakgoda to Godagama and then to Colombo for delivery. I drive alone and despite knowing the traffic cop hideouts, I invariably get nabbed. The most recent was the other evening just past Habarana, at the Electricity Substation, as I was climbing a hill at 50kmph overtaking a painfully slow laden lorry.
Needless to say this was the first time I had seen cops at the top of the hill, with no straight-line markings, which I explained. If one is a pro at interpreting the highway code, almost any type of driving if construed by the cop as being potentially dangerous entitles him to cite you. Needless to say in Sri Lanka the cops are there not to prevent accidents but to find the spots most likely to trap hapless motorists, and I thought I knew all spots.
I don’t offer a bribe on principal. I have had, over the past four years of this hard slog, to part with thousands of rupees. Though in truth I don’t know where this money goes. In the last incident I told the cop that I just could not make a special trip to pay the fine, and would inconvenience my whole business and that of my employees if I had to make the journey first to the Post Office to pay the Rs550/- fine and then to the Habarana Police to pick up my license. He then said that I could pay him the money and he would do the needful, pay the fine on my behalf and take care of citation, saving me the hassle and said he would do this as a special favor to me only bearing in mind my hardship.
I need not emphasize the fact that speeding passenger buses, Pajeros and Prados with tinted windows are rarely stopped no matter what the misdemeanor, and if done the swiftness of the bribe ensures a clean gateway.
I did not want to tell him that he was not the first to spin this story and in all the police divisions that I have been trapped they have said the same and got my money and not given me a receipt despite my asking for one. I therefore have no evidence of having paid them the money nor anyway to inform or do an audit trail of ensuring the fine was paid on my behalf. I have sent a letter to the DIG Motor Traffic, but either they have not read it or my letter has not reached the intended so I will just have to make a special effort to meet him to explain how they should tackle this rampant problem to ensure accountability. I suspect all this money is just going into the pockets of the cops and not to the state but I have no way to prove this.
So I ask, am I unwittingly paying a bribe? Or is it the rule makers who must tighten the rules to ensure full accountability of such payments into the system? Thereby satisfying both me the inconvenienced motorist as well as the state’s need to raise funds no matter the means within which it is done. I know many who say they don’t pay a bribe, but it is their chauffeurs who do the driving and also engage in the bribe giving saving their consciences. They have gofers, who take care of the needful without them even being aware of how rampant this form of baksheesh is. I look on this as a cost of my trade, as in the scheme of things, my vehicle can hardly go over 60kmph nor do I take silly risks.