The best way to fight corruption is to legalise it

“So, that’s my quotum for this week.” The police-officer closes his book with traffic tickets and rises from his chair at the large window, where he has overlooked the rather derelict Amsterdam shopping street. I look at him and don’t ask the obvious question. No, this is not the most effective way of policing, we both know that. Outside, it drizzles and dusk is falling, the cars slow down before the traffic light. Not all of them stop in time though, and that’s why the officer was here, in the former shop that the municipality turned into a neighbourhood center. He writes traffic tickets for drivers that pass the orange or red light, ignoring the superfluous traffic light. The crossing road is closed, so it’s not really dangerous. The policemen sits here on a regular basis, especially when the weather has been bad for several days. It is an easy and comfortable way to comply with his order to write a certain amount of traffic tickets each week, the new way of measuring performance of the police around the turn of the century.

Here in Cambodia it is even worse, they use performance pay for the traffic police. Traffic is dangerous because drivers of cars and mopeds show very unresponsible behaviour and a complete lack of knowledge about traffic rules. The number of victims rises quickly, so trying to change that is a noble endeavour. To start with, a new traffic law has been adopted, in which the rules are clearer and the fines for violations of the law are higher. After that, you might expect a campaign to inform the public and then some strong law enforcement to make clear that everyone has to obey the rules. Not in Cambodia. Here the police announces in all media that they won’t enforce the law the first half a year, because nobody is aware of the new rules. “Nobody” here includes the traffic police themselves. By now, all traffic police should be educated and know the rules, so enforcement will start soon. Before that moment, a slight problem of corrution needs to be solved. Police hardly earn anything and use real or pretended traffic rule violations to earn a bit of extra money. That doesn’t improve the trust in the correct enforcement of the law, so we need to find a solution. No, of course we won’t increase the salary of the police to ensure they don’t need corruption to make sure their family doesn’t starve. We devise a ruse, we will fight corruption by legalising it. From now on, police officers are allowed to keep 70% of the traffic tickets to themselves, the rest goes to the corps and the national treasury. That’s what I would call performance enhancing measures. Probably there will be a lot of traffic tickets (or would it still be possible to avoid a ticket by paying 80% to the officer directly?), but again, whether that is the most effective way of policing remains doubtful.

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