The police are not wrong in carrying out an operation to crack down on noisy motorbikes with illegal modifications.
But what we see is the foregoing of a more effective approach.
The police, together with the road transport and customs authorities, should have notified all importers, spare parts stockists and workshop operators well before the crackdown that modifying motorbike exhaust systems and installing parts that produce noise beyond the approved decibel level would be deemed illegal.
Next, the police, working closely with Puspakom, should have given all motorists a two-month grace period to have their bikes checked and corrected at all Puspakom outlets nationwide.
The authorities could have roped in selected authorised workshops to rectify problematic exhausts. A nominal fee of RM50 could have been charged for the remedial effort, providing some revenue for the government.
Once the grace period was over, the authorities could have launched their crackdown. Many would have welcomed the denda (fines) imposed on violators, which would have boosted government coffers.
Remember, the lower-income group and even the middle class are reeling from the pandemic-induced slump. So, a crackdown without adequate notification and avenues for redress within a reasonable time would burden the people.
Not plugging a trade that went unnoticed not only earns a poor reputation for law enforcers but also earns brickbats for Muhyiddin Yassin’s government.
Hopefully, this will be an eye-opener, as the thousands of motorcyclists affected by the crackdown will find it difficult to pay the fines.
Motorcyclists’ plight needs attention
There is a huge groundswell of unhappiness among motorcyclists across the country.
In the wake of the crackdown on noisy exhausts and a variety of ‘unauthorised’ modifications to number plates, rims, brakes, lighting and performance, the penalties of up to RM2,000 have riled motorcyclists.
Even if some media remain indifferent to their plight, social media are awash with the sentiments of a well-networked community of bikers nationwide.
Confusion, calls for compassion and even calls to boycott political parties if a snap election is held have poured out on social media.
The problem is all about timing, policies and enforcement plans.
The pandemic fears, the ever-changing movement restrictions and the many standard operating procedures have affected our social being-ness. Against this backdrop, the ongoing crackdown on bikers has not gone down well.
Many have lost their incomes, forcing them to use motorbikes to cut petrol and parking costs. The sudden loss of jobs has also prompted many youths to use their bikes for delivery jobs.
For decades, we largely ignored the imports of bike parts, accessories and performance upgrades. This allowed lucrative motorbike businesses to thrive – manufacturers, importers, distributors, stockists, retailers and workshops. These also provided good revenue to the government.
Countless youths have modified or jazzed up their bikes, perhaps with the (mistaken?) impression that as shops are selling these items openly, it would not be wrong to have them installed.
Mind you, many of these modifications do not come cheap. This is part of a worldwide phenomenon where bikers spruce up their machines.
In the absence of recreational alternatives, biking serves as a fast-growing weekend leisure pursuit for youths to break away from the doldrums of life. Given prevailing low wages and unemployment, it is also an affordable and easy means for the youth to commute and socialise.
So when, after decades of silence or lack of education or unsustained enforcement, the authorities get serious with a crackdown and impose hefty fines, it is not a surprise if bikers are upset.
Somewhere along the way, we have lost the plot and are not seeing the big picture.
Laws and enforcement need a concerted, coordinated base to build a compliant society of bikers. We need to educate bikers to raise awareness, compliance and acceptance. We need to be aware of the motorbike industry and the enhancements that come along with changing technologies. We need the right policies, laws and prohibitions.
The number of motorbikes in Malaysia is huge and growing, given their cheaper cost, the congested roads and shortcomings in public transport. Biking is also growing as a hobby among enthusiasts: we can see more and more big bikers touring the country.
Given all this, policing bikers needs a more informed, compassionate and understanding approach with long-term goals that can improve road safety, social wellbeing and compliance to reasonable laws.
We must believe that the biking community can be harnessed easily to play their role as good citizens.
Failure to act reasonably with compassion and due consideration may only drive bikers to become even more problematic.
Season for summons
We will remember this pandemic as not only a disaster that caused immense hardship but also a season that rained huge fines on the people.
Malaysians are now having to face a range of penalties. Each day passes with reports of crackdowns by the various authorities issuing fines. Social media have been full of postings of people receiving all kinds of fines.
From motor vehicles to entertainment and eateries to manufacturing – people have been slapped with fines ranging from RM1,000 to RM10,000. One restaurant operator was even slapped with a RM25,000 fine for playing piped-in music without a licence.
On the one hand, the government wants to help the people wade through this economic crisis. It has rolled out various financial packages to ease the people’s hardship and revive the economy.
On the other, the various authorities are issuing fines that leave many in tears. While no one should dispute the need to correct society and all the ills associated with non-compliance with regulations, what many cannot fathom is why this barrage of penalties is descending on us now.
Take motor vehicle inspections, for example. We had decades before us to correct the many failures, weaknesses in the system and ignorance among motorists.
Today, as many people reel from extreme psychological stress owing to the ‘new normal’ and prolonged movement restrictions, bikers are not even sure if they will incur huge fines for violations of regulations pertaining to number plates, lights, exhaust sounds and what-have-you.
Likewise for eateries, where customers who are now finally able to sit down for a cup of tea. The pains have multiplied by the week.
The question is why are people being put under so much duress during a pandemic, when many are worried about health and bread-and-butter issues.
Are we such a bunch of useless, recalcitrant people whom the authorities have to severely punish to make us law-abiding? Is this the best, morally uplifting approach to deal with problems? Are these problems owing to defiance of the law or ignorance and, confusion or a mere moment of human frailty?
Hopefully the government can ease this situation.
Face masks and fines dilemma
The no-nonsense stance of law enforcers going after the public for not wearing or improperly wearing face masks may seem necessary. The hefty fines issued may even be justified as desperate measures for desperate times.
All the same, there seems to be an overzealous drive to create a climate of compliance. But are we forgetting a critical truth? There is more to just wearing a face mask.
Are we aware that overused masks may be more harmful than not wearing or using masks improperly?
Do we not realise that many people are not even aware of the wear and tear and durability of the masks?
Who is there to vouch that the many brands of face masks dumped into the country are genuine and safe?
We see the enforcement frenzy to ensure people wear face masks in public, with crackdowns nationwide and RM10,000 fines happily issued and diligently reported.
But we may be fooling ourselves. An overused mask or poor quality (perhaps even fake) mask could prove to be more harmful than non-compliance or ignorant use of the mask.
Cause for concern
Under normal circumstances, when governments impose hefty fines and severe jail terms, law-abiding folk welcome such measures in the hope of a cleaner society.
But the fines and jail terms dished out have raised grave concern and objections from a wide spectrum of society.
We now have the fake news fines of RM100,000 and a host of other fines for not observing pandemic control measures and for modifications to motor vehicles and for the use of music at eateries. These fines could burn a RM1,000-RM25,000 hole in people’s pockets.
Many cannot understand why the government is taking this route during such difficult times for the people.
While the PM keeps reassuring the people that he cares for them and wants to save the nation, the nationwide crackdowns on a host of different groups goes against the government’s aim to make our lives easier.
Even a novice social media user can see the unhappiness among ordinary people trying to earn a living.
Nobody in their frame of mind is against the imposition of new laws, fines and jail terms if they will ensure peace, progress and social wellbeing.
But if these harsh laws and punitive penalties are not well received, then the government must quickly re-appraise the situation.
A failure to go back to the drawing board and to be more consultative would not only be damaging to any government but would not augur well for various enforcement agencies, which have been criticised.
Damage control could come too late in the day or there could be a heavy price to pay.
The various penalties may not have produced the desired traction. Has the government gone seriously wrong somewhere?
Hopefully, wisdom will prevail, and the government will correct where it has gone wrong. It must regain its fast-eroding trust and rebuild damaged relations.
Amid these tough times, compassion, goodwill and understanding will help instil values and the principles of honourable conduct in society.