Snapping at the heels of social justice

Snapping at the heels of social justice

Forget Big Brother — now the BMA wants you to spy on your neighbours and report wrongdoing for cash rewards

Bangkok municipal officers warn a motorcyclist not to misuse public space by riding along a pedestrian footpath in front of Soi Intarapitak 1 in Thon Buri district. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
Bangkok municipal officers warn a motorcyclist not to misuse public space by riding along a pedestrian footpath in front of Soi Intarapitak 1 in Thon Buri district. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

City Hall is ushering in a culture of whistle-blowing by offering cash incentives for informing on those who violate public spaces -- for example, motorcyclists who tear along pavements -- but fears are mounting it may promote vigilantism and could spark violent confrontations.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) measure, which took effect when it was published in the Royal Gazette on Aug 11, promises those who report violations on pavements, ditches, canals, rivers and other public areas 50% of the fines meted out.

The regulation takes its cue from Section 51 of the 25-year-old Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country Act (1992) which states that "a person witnessing such violation is an injured person under the Criminal Procedure Code".

The local authority is therefore within its jurisdiction to offer financial compensation to the injured party in the form of a reward, according to legal analysts.

The only condition: They must submit evidence to support their claim in the form of a photograph or video clip capturing the wrongdoer red-handed, making this very much a post-smartphone legal reform.

"This is a good measure as it will induce cooperation by all sectors of society," said Thongchai Panswad, president of the Thailand Walking and Cycling Institute Foundation.

"It sends a strong message that we will no longer tolerate this kind of behaviour."

For over a decade, Mr Thongchai has been campaigning for people to adopt cycling to improve their health. He sees the regulation as an important step in educating society on the importance of respecting public areas in a sustainable way.

"One potential weak link that needs to be fixed is the requirement that the face of the wrongdoer has to be captured in the submitted image or video clip," he said, adding this ramps up the likelihood of conflict escalating between the two parties on the ground.

The legal measure is part of the BMA's crackdown on anti-social behaviour that can cause harm to the public. Examples include dropping trash in canals, and driving scooters on expressways or bridges over the Chao Phraya River that lack motorcycle lanes.

These are already deemed violations of the 1992 act. Moreover, such behaviour is considered a public nuisance that disturbs pedestrians, pollutes canals and even threatens natural ecosystems, officials say.

But the BMA has limited resources at its disposal -- hence the call for the public to say enough is enough and participate in the legal machinery by reporting infractions.

Officials claim the agency is hamstrung by a shortage of municipal workers who can track violations. If caught and charged, violators face fines from 2,000 baht to 10,000 baht depending on the nature of the offence.

The new regulation states that half the amount of the fine received from a violator of the law will go to the person who reports the wrongdoing to authorities. The other half goes to the traffic or police officer who makes the arrest.

Those who witness violations are encouraged to report them to the City Law Enforcement Department by calling (02) 465-6644, writing a letter to the department or contacting it via email (citylaw_bma@hotmail.com).

At least one piece of evidence is required. For motorbike infractions, specific details must be included such as the licence plate number of the moped, the time and date of the misconduct, and a photograph of the violator.

The reward will be paid after the fine is collected, which can take up to 60 days.

The BMA recently conducted a survey to gauge public opinion on one of its Facebook pages called Rao Rak Dan Truat (We Love Security Checkpoints). An overwhelming majority, or 88% of respondents, gave the new measure two thumbs-up.

A common chorus among dissenters was that preventive measures should be enacted instead.

Some suggested a public campaign about moped and pedestrian safety, and the construction of more motorbike lanes and U-turns on streets, would be more sustainable.

Another survey on a different Facebook page -- Ni Lae Thailand (This is Thailand) -- showed that 67% of respondents agreed the whistle-blower should receive half the fine.

Others voiced concern it could stir up conflict and lead to a rash of physical assaults.

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