The Collateral Damage From The Van Der Speck Sting

April 16, 2013

A recent video uploaded by Mr. Van Der Speck, the Dutch ‘journalist’ posing as a tourist to ‘expose’ so-called corruption and extortion practices of the Bali police, went viral, as its maker had hoped. It showed the well-known practice of paying police a small fee when caught in a traffic infringement.

Equipped with a hidden camera, plus an accomplice with a second camera close by, he rode past a police post, sans helmet, waiting to be pulled over. Following the best practices of journalistic entrapment, he effectively offered an inducement to the police officer to avoid ‘going to court’. Readily agreeing to a fairly high pay-off fee, he then intimated that he would love a beer, whereupon the unfortunate cop, perhaps motivated by guilt for accepting such a relatively high payment from a ‘nice guy’, scurried off and bought him a a few beers with the proceeds – which they then both enjoyed.

Reactions to this sting followed the predictable pattern of those who come from a different culture, where all corruption is considered wrong. Ignoring the distinction between ‘minor’ corruption here, and the unacceptable ‘major’ corruption which is endemic amongst Indonesia’s officials, the media, in a fit of unseemly glee, went bat-shit over the issue. No point in explaining to people that ‘minor’ corruption plays an important role in the complex economic and social fabric here, and is actually beneficial given the subsistence salaries that are the norm.

No, uninformed moralists of all persuasions, holding firmly to their belief that ALL payola is wrong no matter what the circumstances, expressed their condemnation with the usual Bali-bashing. This, of course, caused Bali’s authorities to lose face and crack down on a practice that is both complex and necessary, at least under the present system of dealing with traffic violations. The police involved were disciplined as well – a scapegoat was necessary.

And this opportunistic little set-up is now having very expensive repercussions for locals.

A friend – a local person – was pinged by traffic police in Kuta/Legian tonight for riding without a helmet. Yes, it was a silly and dangerous oversight. Normally, in return for a small fee (for locals) of 20,000-30,000, it would incur a safety lecture and an exhortation to stay safe. Most people I know learn from such an experience and remember to wear their helmet – at least for a couple of months anyway.

But this time, the cop apologised for not being able to accept the usual ‘fee’, and said his hands were tied as his supervisor was watching closely. He kept glancing around as if to find a hidden camera. He then proceeded to write out the first traffic ticket I have ever seen in Bali, saying that all police were being watched like hawks since the Lio Square sting by Van Der Speck.

My friend now has to go to the police station in the morning and pay the official fine, which according to the vaguely-worded citation, will be either 100,000, or 250,000, or 500,000 rupiah. Even the cop didn’t know.  That’s a lot of money for a local person. The printed citation form doesn’t even provide an address at which to pay the fine, undoubtedly because this method is so rarely used here that the kinks in the system haven’t even been discovered yet.

I wonder if the holier-than-thou ‘journalist’ ever considered that his actions would have such repercussions? A fine of up to two week’s salary for a local is savage. Loss of discretionary income for a police officer – who has already paid 100 million plus for a place in the police academy, and a further few million a month to ‘buy a franchise’ for a spot on a lucrative ‘fine’ corner will seriously affect his family.

Am I ‘for’ corruption? No. But the system under which the traffic police have operated for years is finely tuned to the society here, and the ‘fees’ paid for vehicular transgressions go straight to the officer to supplement his meagre salary. In developed countries, without a culture of, er,  personal fee-for-service, the money paid in fines goes to Consolidated Revenue for the government to totally waste on airy-fairy social experiments. I know which one I think is the more equitable system. I don’t even see it as ‘corruption’, rather, it is an equitable re-distribution of wealth.

Will this new system last? I don’t know. I do know the police on the street are not in favour of it because of the loss of their income. Their bosses may be of a different mind, suddenly realising that a hitherto-unrealised revenue stream is there for the taking. I know the average local is horrified that they will have to pay up to ten times the amount they are used to.

But I suspect that when the fuss dies down, Bali’s traffic regulation enforcement methods will quietly revert to their time-honoured state, where there is a social benefit for all who get trapped by their vehicular misdemeanours.

And, despite the arguments for and against the existing system here, the fact remains that no-one needs to pay anything to the police or the Traffic Department. Ever.

All you have to do is wear a helmet, a shirt, keep your headlights on during the day, stop before the white line at traffic lights, and carry a valid licence and registration documents. No-one will book you.

And Mr. Van Der Speck – next time you come blundering into a foreign country, ignorant of its culture and social mores, and deliberately break its laws in order to entrap someone – for the sake of journalism – stop and think. You might be happily back in Holland, but the damage your stupid journalism has inflicted remains.



  1. All traffic laws were revised and passed in 2010 (I am away, so I don’t have the actual Legislated Number) But I agree with the soft touch, but I disagree with the law being ignored regarding licensing, in particular MINORS riding bikes and driving cars in full view of shadehouse coffee drinking Police. This activity must stop. Accident stats will bear this protest.

  2. If police start enforcing traffic laws by handing down massive fines, rather than accepting little bribes, then motorists (including motorcyclists) may start obeying the laws. If just one person decides to wear a helmet (out of fear of being fined) and then survives an accident because of that helmet, then Van Der Speck’s actions are justified. Road accidents are reported to be the third-biggest cause of death in Bali. I think Van Der Speck should not have aired the footage of such a wonderfully friendly policeman. Instead, he should have found a complete scoundrel of a policeman to shame.

    • In theory, and in an ideal environment, that is spot on the money Ray. It IS a huge problem here, and needs to be tackled.

      However, in a culture like this, if the police have no incentive to stop people for infractions (i.e. there is no pocket money in it for them) they will just stooge around and not stop anyone. The ‘massive fines’ end up going to the government, not to them. It’s just not worth it on their salary. Because many also dislike confrontation, I suspect they will avoid getting into arguments about ‘massive fines’ by ignoring the offences.
      And of course, big fines – possibly a deterrent in the West – are simply impossible to enforce here, because people just don’t have the money.

    • @ Ray. I’ve read the article and your comments. While I agree that more motorcyclists will now wear helmets and abide by traffic laws, I must also acknowledge the Author’s point that traffic police will now lose a section of income. This will inevitably lead to greater police involvement in larger crimes and will produce higher levels of corruption. Why enforce traffic laws and either issue a fine or get filmed taking a small bribe when you can simply entrap someone with drugs and then get a larger payout and more than likely not get watched doing it? Police corruption is embedded in the 3rd world. I am not saying the journalist did a good or a bad thing; I am noting that there are always consequences to media exposure that are not always considered at the time of publication.

    • sorry, but that corner, they are scoundrels because they fish bules out of the traffic if they are 1cm over the invisible line, or just want to check on their so called international driving license. Then again, we made sure we made friends with them as we pass 10 times a day by them and buy them an ice cream from across the road, which is much appreciated because their wages are indeed crap…something to do with all these business that don’t pay their taxes…we are all trying to cash in because of the corrupt system to our benefits as well…..But yes, to all, saw some horrid accidents because kids of 12 years old drive the bike, no helmet and cut into mothers with kids on their bikes and try to run of!! sword got two sides on all levels….

  3. yes but roundeyes(westerners) like myself get sick of being stopped for going thru a red light(when it is clearly green) and then have my fine worked out by what sort of job I have, so by people saying follow the rules and everything is alright is rubbish
    if they want the money they will find something wrong whether its right or wrong. pococko

    • Yes, that does happen, and some cops can be somewhat creative with their interpretation of rules. They are the ones who should have been the real target of Van Der Spek’s video, not a guy just doing his job.

      If you are absolutely sure that you have not broken any rules, and you are stopped for what is clearly a shakedown, the secret is to smile, stay good natured, suggest that maybe he has mistaken you for someone else.

      Never keep your licence in your wallet, and NEVER let the cop see what is in your wallet. Point vaguely to the middle distance and speak generally about ‘your friend’, who was on the bike behind you, who will be a ‘witness’. Never lose your cool, but keep smiling and banter about how the cop is taking so much time with you – for nothing – while hundreds of people without helmets are going past. Carry a business card from a high-placed official and suggest that he call ‘your friend’ to sort out this ‘misunderstanding’. Use your phone to ‘call the Tourist Police’ to help you sort this out. Ask for his name, or make it clear that you are looking carefully at his ID number. As a last resort, sigh and say, “I want to go to court. Will we go now, or tomorrow?”

      It’s a game, and one that you can not lose if you genuinely have NOT broken any rules. But if you do get angry and create a confrontation that results in loss of face for him, the outcome is likely to be different. It’s Bali – play the game, enjoy the game, win the game – and do it without making the cop ‘wrong’ – even when he is 😉

  4. Thank Christ you said this!!!!! It has been stewing in the back of my mind and you are BANG ON!!!! All I kept think was that this twat was an ignoramus full of his own self importance to big note him self by making this copper look like a crime boss. Bloody ridiculous.
    Thanks vyt

  5. Agree 100% with the sentiment. It’s easy to just say “corruption is bad”. But the populous use corruption every single day for preferential treatment. It’s often the only way to get things done.

    Not sure of the situation in Bali, but where I live in Java you apparently have to go to court and pay fines. It apparently takes all day and is a similar fee to paying the bribe and absolutely no one does it because it just takes too long. But probably the same situation as Bali. It’s all hearsay as no one goes through the process.

  6. You justify bribes where it suits you… that’s convenient.

    If the bribes were a ad-hoc subsidization system. Are you implying that the police is distributing this “shared wealth” with other less paid work groups?

    I don’t think you thought all this through properly 🙂

  7. Yes, it would be more convenient for all of us to pay small bribes, but isn’t it time for Indonesia to realize that if it is to become part of the global community, both as an international player and as a beneficiary of foreign tourism and business, it has to change? After all, just 100 years ago Bali considered wrecked ships their own property, and it was perfectly ok for the widows of noblemen to throw themselves onto the funeral pyres. Change is painful, but surely necessary. You make a distinction between petty bribery and massive bribery, when there isn’t one. Its just the same disease which permeates the entire culture, undermining the law and making it impossible for equality and fairness to flourish at every level. For too long it has been fashionable for expats to turn a blind eye to the corruption we all participate in. A little courage is necessary, both by locals and foreigners, to assist this nation in becoming part of the global community. The personal inconvenience is surely worth the effort, and as other correspondents have said, not only might it make the roads safer but it might encourage the grander officials not to pocket the salaries of their underlings, thus forcing them to accept bribes in order to survive. Indonesia is in transition. Lets help it.

    • I agree completely with the principles you espouse. To root out corruption is a massive undertaking, and can only be achieved in small steps.

      As far as the traffic police are concerned, an interim measure might be to re-think both the legal and social frame-work within which this petty bribery occurs.

      Currently, there is a dual system in operation which is the root cause of the ‘uang rokok’ mentality:

      1) There is the ‘official’ process under which police issue a citation, and the miscreant pays the authorities later. It is little used, because it is tedious, cumbersome and simply does not have the capacity to handle the number of violations that occur every day in Bali.

      2) Then there is the ‘unofficial’ process where a miscreant pays a discounted ‘fine’ directly to the officer involved. This is the system that works here, but attracts criticism from those who believe that ANY bribe (or ‘reward’, depending on your point of view) is wrong under all circumstances. The police rely on these fines to supplement their inadequate incomes. The authorities turn a blind eye, because they would otherwise have to increase police salaries to compensate for loss of income.

      Given that police here, unlike in the West, are legally entitled to run money-making enterprises in conjunction with their day jobs, it would seem that a fairly simple change in procedures could solve this little impasse.

      Make these ‘direct payments’ legal. Let the police collect fines, but according to a clearly set-out rate sheet which applies to all violators, and which is widely circulated. Let the rate schedule reflect the realities of life here, with a fine of 50,000 per offence for foreigners and 30,000 for locals, without ‘negotiation’ based on the amount of money in the wallet.(Yes, I support a two-tier system). Punish cops who try to extort a higher payment, and those who attempt to extort riders and drivers who have NOT broken any road regulation and are subject to extortion demands.

      Allow miscreants the option of ‘going to court’, wasting a day or more, and paying the legislated fine amounts, which are considerably higher than the street prices.

      And while you’re at it, dispense with the 1-day ‘immunity’ customarily granted if caught without a helmet, where you are told, “If you get caught again today, say you have already paid …” No. The purpose of these rules is to save lives and reduce injury. If you get caught again on the next corner, you pay again. And again if you are stupid enough not to buy, and wear, a helmet immediately.

      By doing this, in one fell swoop you eliminate the stigma of bribery because the cops would just be legally collecting on-the-spot fines, the police’s necessary supplementary income would continue, and the traffic authorities would not be inundated with fines-processing procedures that they are simply not equipped to handle.

      I believe it really is that simple.

      • I think that you stand on arbitrary moral grounds on this one. I am trying to follow your logic: if people starts to follow the law better, the police should make more things illegal so that they won’t starve?

      • Hmm, that’s almost the opposite of what I actually said.

      • It would have been interesting if you had elaborated on how it is the opposite. But anyway, that’s not the important issue, because that scenario will never happen.

        You’re right in the fact that there is an extreme complexity to the corruption that is difficult to understand for someone who hasn’t lived here. Although video is picturing a reality you can’t deny (except that I’ve never heard of a policeman buying beer like that). The world is free and welcome to make out whatever they want from it.

        Whatever think of Mr. Van Der Speck’s actions, his legacy is still that he created the debate he wanted on a topic that is very hot here in Indonesia. I’m even having a discussion here among strangers thanks to him 🙂

        A bit of a side note, but have you heard of http://www.ipaidabribe.com/

  8. “And, despite the arguments for and against the existing system here, the fact remains that no-one needs to pay anything to the police or the Traffic Department. Ever.

    All you have to do is wear a helmet, a shirt, keep your headlights on during the day, stop before the white line at traffic lights, and carry a valid licence and registration documents. No-one will book you.”

    Then how would the police supplement their income?

    I think what you suggest here: “Make these ‘direct payments’ legal. Let the police collect fines, but according to a clearly set-out rate sheet which applies to all violators, and which is widely circulated” makes much more sense, given that in Oz too, we get on-the-spot fines for certain traffic misdemeanours. However, I wouldn’t class not wearing a helmet as a misdemeanour – I would put that in the category of stupidity. On the “rate sheet” you suggest, perhaps the violations with their respective fines, should also be listed.
    Yes, Rp.500,000 is two weeks’ wages, but isn’t that preferable to having to fork out millions for a cremation for the person who didn’t wear a helmet and died on the road as a result?

    By the way, just how much do the Police earn per month (not including fines collected from their franchises?

    Oh, and – if they can afford to pay 100 million to get into the Police Force – how did they get this amount? That’s a lot of money to save.

    Just wondering, that’s all, as this is a fascinating subject.

    • I was told that salary is around 2 to 3.5 million per month. The initial ‘investment’ from what I have been told, comes from family, or is borrowed from the bank (if there is family collateral) at about 3.5% per month, or from loan sharks at about 5.5% per month. If this scenario is true, the supplementary income becomes absolutely essential just to keep one’s head above water.

      In other parts of Indonesia, reports often surface of a ‘tribute’ system too. Low ranking officers purportedly make unofficial payments to higher ranking officers, and so on up the tree until you are absolutely raking it in. Does this happen in Bali too? I have no idea, but it would not surprise me if it did.

  9. Simple solution, have the Government award 10% of the ticketed fines back to the issuing officer.

  10. My point of view is, that this stupid journalist just want to be popular and then make more money. And that happen. He is more famous.
    And the most important is, that also in this relatively free country, which is Indonesia, thanks to corruption, we will loose freedom also here. Everybody has to wear helmet. In Europe, the level of freedom is very low. You have to wear helmet even on bike! That’s really stupid. In the future, we will have to wear helmet propably also in forest, because of dangerous trees.
    You can’t live even 5 minutes of live without following some stupid rules created by super smart government.
    Thank you stupid journalist, another piece of freedom is cut off.

    • “You have to wear helmet even on bike! That’s really stupid.”
      Oh dear! Have you ever witnessed a bike-rider who has been hit by a car and fallen on to the road? Have you seen the difference the wearing of a helmet can make to the victim’s head? Of course everyone is entitled to their own point of view, but mine is this – it’s a good idea to wear a helmet when riding – whether it is a bike, a motorbike or a skateboard. The wearing of a helmet can, literally, be the difference between life and death, or serious, life-changing injury. In this instance, rules and regulations are there to protect people from getting hurt, or worse.

  11. The comment made about the cops working out the fine after asking you your occupation back in the West, I always turn this to my favor, by simply telling them I’m a Police Officer (I’m not), I have international license, helmet, shirt etc., but they often just stop you to try and shake you down…

  12. On the topic of helmets there is one point that hasn’t been brought up here that I find rather amusing. That point is that helmet laws apparently don’t apply if a balinese person (and possible a foreigner) is wearing ceremonial dress. It makes me wonder what the helmet law was put in place for, is it for safety? Because I can’t see how being dressed for a ceremony somehow reduces your chances of being involved in an accident. I also find it amusing that a plastic knock off construction helmet passes for a motorcycle helmet here. Having ridden cross country and downhill mountain bikes a lot in the past I learnt the importance of proper safety gear early. When I arrived in Bali I spent a week hunting down a “smoker’s full face” helmet that almost fits properly and my balinese friend and guide tried to talk me into a cheap open face helmet at every store we visited. When asked why I wanted to spend so much on a helmet I tried to explain the importance of a proper fit, as well as the importance of jaw protection. I don’t think the message got through. His entire family ride without helmets unless they are going somewhere that will likely have police enforcement.

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