New traffic fine scheme a ‘regrettable’ development

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A traffic police officer in Phnom Penh stops a motorist. Vireak Mai

New traffic fine scheme a ‘regrettable’ development

Experts are divided on whether giving Cambodian traffic police a bigger cut of fines handed out will result in better observance of road rules.

The deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Public Order Department, Ti Long, on Monday announced that from January, 70 per cent of fines would go to the ticketing officer.

At the same time, penalties for traffic infractions are set to increase five-fold.

For example, the fine for not wearing a seatbelt will jump from $1.25 to $6.25.

According to current rules, police get to keep about 50 per cent of fines they dish out.

Roderic Broadhurst, a professor of criminology at the Australian National University, said it was not uncommon around the world for a percentage of fines to go to police, but it was usually “collectively, not at the individual level”, i.e. to the police force as a whole.

“Of course, many countries [Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines] spring to mind [that] turn a blind eye, or do so at the unit level,” he said.

He said Cambodia’s move to extend the system of direct police remuneration was “regrettable”.

“It will encourage more ‘rent seeking’,” he said.

“Presumably, a cut of the fine also ends up the line [to the officers’ superiors] and such practices encourage the ‘buying of office’ rather than supporting the role of the police constable as the frontline ‘rule of law’ acting without fear or favour – a high ideal I admit.

“It is preferable for such summary fines to end up in the public treasury so that they may be dispersed fairly. Personal incentives to encourage policing are not usually the most efficient ways to deter or to provide revenue.”

However, Thierry Bouhours, a visiting fellow with the Regulatory Institutions Network at the ANU said it was possible the system could provide benefits – as long as proper protocols were in place.

“If only legitimate fines can be imposed – that is, with a proper ticket indicating the type of infraction and the amount paid – and a recourse possible when the infraction is contested, then the monetary incentive might increase police enforcement of the traffic laws and better compliance,” Bouhours said. “Of course, nothing beats properly paid and trained police officers.”

Opposition lawmaker and anti-corruption crusader Son Chhay said the government was missing the point with the changes.

The priorities should be ending impunity for wealthy motorists, stamping out the buying of government jobs, purchasing proper equipment such as breath-testers, and increasing all police salaries so they didn’t need to rely on bribes, he said. “All these things are important,” he said.

“The government should understand the big picture and not just make suggestions or actions without studying the whole situation.”

The only traffic police officer who would speak to Post Weekend this week said the changes would not make much difference.

“We already keep 80 per cent of the fines, and have done so for years,” he said.

“I’ve been working as a traffic cop for more than 30 years, and I don’t think that much about the money I get. I only do my job and ticket those who do not obey the law.”

Additional reporting by Monkolransey Mao

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