Sunday, February 21, 2010

For once, I agree with the court ruling

Unlicensed drivers are a danger on our roads and it is an offence to become one. Knowing how to operate the controls of a car and make it move by going forwards and backwards, doesn't mean that the person behind the wheel can drive.

Driving is more than just being able to operate a car. Frighteningly, the problem of unlicensed drivers is a huge one on Malaysian roads. It is alleged that there are several hundred thousand unlicensed drivers in the country.

Thus, the policeman, the DPP and the judge who jailed and fined Warid Said Zuraish Khan for driving without a driving licence in Johor, on Feb 5, seem the only models of clear thinking in our corrupt society.

We are so accustomed to hearing and reading about how the law is constantly being broken but without the perpetrators being brought to justice. Wrong-doers are routinely released for lack of evidence or simply let off the hook. Therefore, the sentencing of Warid Khan is welcome news.

Empty promises of leaders

We are constantly told that corruption will be investigated, only for the long-drawn out cases to arrive at an unsatisfactory conclusion. It is depressingly evident that the promises of various leaders have not been sustained.

Severe deterrents are effective. But our lawmakers don't necessarily act in the public's best interests. It happens in most if not all facets of our society, not just in traffic offences.

bus-crash-1Take for instance the outcome of a major bus crash. Bus companies have strenuously objected to compulsory training for their drivers because it is too expensive to implement. But the alternative is more costly. Reputations are at stake and insurance premiums are increased. And more importantly, people get injured or die. No one can put a price on lives that are lost, as every death is unacceptable.

But, as always, the short-term remedy, or the quick-fix measure is preferred to the long-term solution. So we go through the same rigmarole of investigation, meetings, the blame-game and rigid enforcement (for a limited time period or at least till the fuss dies down). Until the next major bus crash, when the whole process is repeated.

It has happened with migrant workers. The government is aware of the problem but refuses to tackle it head-on. The crackdown on illegal workers this Chinese New Year was postponed to appease certain sections of society. Trying to halt or reduce dependence on migrant labour is economically damaging. The government wants to meet its economic needs, but at what cost?

We also have maintenance issues of wives in divorce cases. Single mothers struggle to raise families because men ignore the responsibility of providing financial support. Ex-husbands are not prosecuted for non-payment.

Enforcement and implementation of rules are tardy. The victims, the mothers and their children, often give up. Funding of RM15m to aid single mothers is side-stepping the real issue. This aid, proposed for Muslim women, may be extended to the other races. It is the symptom of the problem that is being tackled, but not the problem itself.

Well known problem

Driving without a valid licence is a serious but well known problem in Malaysia. It is said that uninsured drivers also cost the insurance industry millions of ringgits every year. People refuse to take driving lessons and be tested.

These offenders come from all walks of life: children from wealthy families drive without valid licences, with parents condoning their actions. They are well connected and call-in favours from influential people to extricate their offspring from being penalised because of a traffic offence. Otherwise, out-of-court settlements, in a bid to prevent prosecutions, are the norm.

traffic-jamThen, there are others who simply 'purchase' a driving license without undergoing the lessons, lectures, theory and practical tests.

High insurance premiums and low penalty fines are suspected of encouraging people to drive uninsured. Unlicensed drivers are ignorant of the consequences. In the event of accidents, victims are responsible for the costs and their insurance premiums will increase, causing them financial hardship.

The law is in place for the safety of all road users. We should ask ourselves if we are prepared to be driven by an unlicensed driver. He or she may not have a clue about road markings, traffic signs, speed limits, where to give way, who has priority, etcetera. Do we want to risk out lives with them at the wheel?

In the Johor case, Warid Khan, a 22-year old Pakistani, was driving his relative's lorry, when he was stopped by police constable Mohamad Junaidi Mahmood. The lorry driver did not have a driving licence and tried to bribe the policeman with a RM50 fine.

End result: People's confidence

In the end, Judge Alman Musri sentenced Warid to a day's jail and fined him RM10,000 to reflect the severity of his crime.

Warid considered this a harsh punishment but he should try and imagine what would have happened had he caused serious injury or even death. He also probably wished he never offered the sweetener to the policeman who was merely carrying out his duty.

The constable's actions are to be commended for we are only too aware of the untold damage others in his profession have caused.

Enforcement and prosecution should be routine rather than sporadic or only before a festival. Justice must be seen to be delivered and the rule of law observed. Our roads would be safer, we'd have increased revenue from fines, encourage a less corrupt society and have safety-conscious road users.

The end result is that the business and financial institutions and Malaysian people, will feel more confident with our public services. — Mariam Mokhtar/Malaysian Mirror

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