Posted by: Simon & Becci | February 15, 2012

The long arm of the law

A team of traffic police

If there is one thing you can guarantee if you drive a motorbike around Phnom Penh, it is that at some point you will be stopped by one of the many traffic police who patrol the city’s major junctions. Thus far we have managed to avoid this – until this week that is.

Becci was driving her moto across a somewhat confusing five way junction and inadvertently got into the wrong lane, thus driving through a red light. She was promptly ushered over to the side of the road by several eagle eyed officers who demanded that she pay an on-the-spot fine. These fines are common place for a variety of mis-demeanors, most peculiar of which is the well known “hazard” of driving your moto with its lights on in the day. Bizarrely having no lights on at night doesn’t seem to be an issue…

Would you like his job?

As you may guess by images of traffic in Phnom Penh, the traffic police do have a rather thankless task, and at busy times of day seem to do a sterling job of (somehow) keeping traffic flowing whilst avoiding getting run over. Their salary for this task? A reported $25 a month. We have heard the idea is that they are expected to supplement their income by keeping a percentage of the fines they collect, passing the rest up to their superior who keeps a percentage, and so on upwards. Certainly an incentive for stopping traffic offenders, but also sadly fruitful soil for possible corruption.

I have also had some brushes with the law in recent weeks at the church building. On one occasion two police officers appeared and insisted to Savath and I that we needed another fire extinguisher in the building, and needed to buy it from them immediately that day. When we asked how many we needed in the building to comply with the law, they said that they would come back regularly and sell us one at a time, and would tell us once we had enough. We politely declined, which they were not best pleased about, and have subsequently bought one from a policeman we know for half the price they were quoting.

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