The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, April 28, 2013


In praise of Bali’s corrupt cops

It’s not often you read a story complimenting Bali’s sticky-fingered law enforcers, particularly after their exposure by Dutch entrapment artist Van Der Spek.

He’s the bareheaded bikie who You-Tubed a traffic policeman taking a bribe to waive the ticket. It’s an arresting video.

Anyway, here’s my cautionary tale. 

Some time ago in Kuta we needed rupiah. Then, as now, there was no shortage of moneychangers along Jl Legian offering juicy rates, far sweeter than those posted at banks and hotels.

Keen to ‘maximise returns on investments’ as bankers say (aka ‘greedy’) we chose the top offer in town.  What did it matter that the rate ended in an odd number and the bank was a dirty desk in an unlit corner of an overstocked clothing and artefact store?

Of course I knew of caveat emptor, but I was one big Westerner who’d studied maths at uni and was armed with a real calculator.  No little local with a doctored abacus was going to outsmart me.

The friendly shopkeeper apologised for his lack of large denomination notes, but, he chuckled, five, ten and 20 thousand rupiah notes were legal tender, even though well worn and confusing to outsiders. Of course. Ha, ha.

I laid down $500 in traveler’s cheques to one side of the counter.  A curious assistant sauntered across to watch his colleague and make small talk.  “Where was I from and how much did I pay for the camera?” Nice fellow.

The suckers enjoyed the chat and watched the piles of notes grow, get resorted, moved and double counted.  Handshakes all round.  Receipts?  Not necessary

Back in the hotel we were hit by reality and a Rp 600,000 shortfall.  The righteous receptionist said I should have used their service and ridiculed requests to call the police.

“They won’t come,” she said.  But they did in minutes, five young muscle men in casual clothes, pistols in belts, and a jeep.

They drove us back to the shop.  The moneychanger denied knowledge.  One cop walked round the counter and started ransacking the desk. Another barged his way into the back room. 

Their mates started manhandling stock.  Roughly. Very roughly. Soon fragile goods would tumble off shelves, clothes would rip, artwork shatter. Customers fled.  The staff blanched.

It seemed the confrontation would turn violent. Maybe getting our money back wasn’t such a good idea.  The scene was like a movie about the prohibition era with American cops raiding a sly grog shop.

If the police were trying to make an impression on a greenhorn foreigner then they were doing a splendid job.

Our cheques were found. One officer tapped the cheat’s chest and invited a refund.  Rp 200,000 was offered.  Clumsy cops started bumping into the furniture.  A further Rp 200,000 appeared.  Belts were hitched and sidearms adjusted.  The rest of the money jumped onto the desk.

Back in the jeep I congratulated the cops and told them that in my country the police would have just taken statements. They’d need search warrants.  Lawyers would get involved.  Should charges be laid the case would take months to reach court.

The chances of the artless dodger getting more than a warning and me my cash would be slight.  But here in Indonesia a fraud had been fixed in a flash and the criminal given one hell of a fright.  Instant justice – brilliant!

Happy to help, said the sergeant, all part of the service. Just one small issue – there’s another difference between Australian and Indonesian police; we locals are badly paid.

I rapidly reckoned Rp 100,000 split between five men was a fair price, and an appropriate penalty for my own stupidity.

Corruption?  Technically, yes. Effective?  Absolutely.  Qualms? A few and evaporating.

Back in Bali this year I tried a different shop to see if the scam was still alive.  Sorry, Pak, only small notes available. My friend just likes watching and chatting. You’re right, the light needs fixing. Cute camera, what did you pay? Now how much do you want? 

So nothing changes - and thanks to Van Der Spek we know the police are still accommodating.   

(First published in The Sunday Post 28 April 2013)


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