The island of Bali is a place of great natural beauty, cultural richness but also of entrenched corruption. Tourists are forced to pay bribes to the police to avoid a small piece of legislation that is as mindless as it is misleading. When renting a scooter, tourists are asked to produce their driving licence, but they are not told about the Indonesian concept of the ‘international driving licence‘. All licences issued by EU countries, for instance, are international by definition, but the Indonesian authorities insist on an elusive document that is supposedly available through embassies and the foreign office of the issuing country. Knowing that few people travelling to Indonesia and looking to rent a vehicle would know about this regulation, the police repeatedly stop drivers and riders in order to enforce their petty law. I say petty because for a country which has almost no traffic signs and no traffic regulations, to require a special kind of driving licence from Europeans, Americans, Australians, etc, is ludicrous. What they are actually after, however, is not to enforce the law but to extract bribes from unsuspecting tourists.
Hours after renting a scooter, we were stopped by a group of six policemen who did just that. We said we wouldn’t pay anything, that they should be ashamed for harassing tourists like that, but they wouldn’t budge. They started writing the fine, saying that they would have to withhold the scooter registration papers and that we would get them back in court. That would have got us in trouble with the renters, so we couldn’t let go. It was only when the ‘commander’ intervened that we realised we were meant to play a part in this masquerade, so syllable by syllable we started to speak the language of bribery. At this point, they became soft as mangosteen skin and said that if we paid the minimum amount, i.e. 100,000 rupiah, the equivalent of £5, we would have nothing to worry about. Confident in our arrangement, we paid and they ripped the fine, pocketing the carrot; yet, not before I took a picture of the penalty.
We left, but a few days later, I rented another scooter in a different part of Bali. I was treated to a replay of the above, but this time, I showed the police the picture of the fine. It worked like magic, like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Corruption has its limits, after all.