by Khanh Van
The Ministry of Public Security has stirred public concern by drafting a regulation that allows traffic violators to pay on-the-spot fines instead of sending them to State Treasury offices.
The ministry said the regulation was aimed at helping reduce the burden on drivers who must spend time and money going to State offices to pay the fines. Sometimes, they have to wait several weeks before they get their driving licences back.
Corruption involving traffic police is already rampant. Many drivers find it cheaper and less time consuming to offer bribes to them to have their problem solved quickly.
Most Vietnamese drivers, particularly those in Ha Noi, try to compromise with traffic police to avoid prolonged procedures. However, we do realise that instead of going into State funds, the money goes straight into the policeman's pocket.
Corruption among traffic police seems to be a fact of life. They are even derogatorily called ca vang (yellow fish) for their predatory attitude to mainstream drivers.
This is why the draft regulation to allow official on-the-spot fines seems doomed from the beginning. Deprived of a not-so-secret but regular source of income, what are traffic police going to do? Probably invent higher fines and accept a bribe for keeping them low.
In Australia and some other Western countries, on-the-spot fines also exist, but the payments are recorded electronically and receipts issued. In fact, various types of traffic fines are the means by which many Western governments pay for the upkeep of their modern road systems.
So, if the system is to work in Viet Nam, the country must be equipped with technology to ensure that all fines are recorded. But this is unlikely to happen, at least not in the near future.
Let's face it, Vietnamese traffic cops do not have a good reputation where money is involved. A survey released by the World Bank and the Government Inspectorate of Viet Nam reveals that traffic police and land administrators are perceived to be the most corrupt local officials.
The survey also found that police and market-management bodies topped the list of agencies asking for unofficial payments or bribes. Although their requests are illegal, nothing is ever recorded so nothing is ever done.
So what will happen if traffic police have more authority to decide the levels of road violations? If the draft regulation comes into law, it will create more favourable conditions for them to publically demand bribes.
The director of the Policy, Law and Development Research Institute, Hoang Ngoc Giao, agrees that the new regulation would serve as a tool for traffic police to manipulate fines - all without strict supervision.
"The regulation would give traffic police more power, making it easier for them to abuse it. That is basic human instinct," he said.
Others say that similar regulation was introduced several years ago, but then quickly revoked. One wonder why the ministry now wants to revive it.
It is far too simplistic for the ministry to claim that it will be easier for traffic violators to pay their fines on-the-spot instead of paying them at State offices. After all, it is a driver's responsibility to pay any fines, not for the authorities to ease their burden.
Stricter punishment for corrupt traffic police is a more logical approach to the whole problem. And stricter punishment must be introduced to ensure that these police actually pass on all the money they take.
More hi-technology should also be used to keep the activities of traffic police under control. All punishment procedures must be recorded and available to the public.
As our foreign friends often tell us, the chaos and confusion on Vietnamese roads, particularly in the north, could probably be solved by an orderly system of roads, traffic and traffic police largely paid for with a multitude of fines from offending drivers.
It is certainly no secret that the number of traffic violations on Vietnamese roads is higher than in most other Asian countries - and certainly those in more developed nations.
Apart from providing a better traffic system, this would also lower the number of deaths and injuries. So why don't we get really serious instead of just fiddling around at the edges? — VNS