Friday, 23 April 2010

Dodging bullets and red plastic flashing wands

I absolutely love that after the government has shut down Blogger in kazakhstan, little ole me has managed to download some software that avoids this. It gives me an enormous sense of self-satisfaction, but equally, unfortunately reminds me that big brother is out there, and that big bully powers that be could actually really mess with our lives if they so chose. And so I had better be careful about what I say.

One thing that we were discussing the other day was how do people who do jobs that everyone mostly hates, cope with it. My husband works in audit. These guys are not exactly the most loved creatures on earth, and he has certainly been on the end of some hate vibes in his time. But actually, businesses have to be audited for a reason, and he tries to make these things happen in the least painful way possible for his clients - that way they get more referred consultancy work as well, ha ha ha. I don't think of auditing as being nearly as bad as, say, traffic warden. Or awkward beaurocrat who refuses to help you through the red tape. Or the person at the airport who insists on charging you for being half a kilo over your weight allowance, or the lady who worked for ServisAir and who once actually caused me and my toddler to miss our flight because she was so darned awkward.

Which brings me onto our local constabulary here in Almaty. Life has dramatically improved for us foreigners who are forced to drive around with yellow license plates on our cars (thus quickly identifying us as fast payers of "fines"). Previously, there would be a traffic policeman stationed every 500 metres or so around the city, stopping cars at random and extracting "fines" from the drivers. They have the right here to stop you for no reason. They can then demand to see the numerous bits of paper that you are legally required to carry with you in your car at all times. Some of these have to be renewed every month. There are approximately five documents which you must be able to show, we have a kind of plastic multi-pocket folder in which to display these things.

Policemen tend to be rather disappointed if you produce all the documents and they are all correct. They will usually ask for some kind of "fine" anyway, as previously mentioned in my posts here and here, and you really have to brave it out not to pay a fine. If you have transgressed and you do not have the required documents, then you will be truly fined. This, it seems, is best paid on the spot, no questions asked, no receipt required. If you do not do this in cash, then they confiscate your documents entirely and you have to go and find your way around a police station and then probably pay a "fine" to someone there to get your documents back, as well as a "fine" for your traffic-related sin. All very onerous if you come from a place where the vast majority of policemen are not bent.

And so, in a rather roundabout way, I am about to get onto what I meant to say. In about August last year, the Mayor of Almaty decreed that the traffic police could not stand on the side of the road and flag people down. This dramatically improved my state of mind when driving. It was such a relief not to have some guy with a red flashing wand, pulling me over at every opportunity to pay "fines". Instead, said the Mayor, the police would only be able to patrol the streets in their cars.

Cue: about 1000 extra police cars on the roads - it must have been boom time for the car dealers and the paint shops. And since it is now less easy to make a living from being a traffic cop, the fines that are dished out from the patrol cars are much higher than previously expected by the guys on the streets. The hit rate is lower so the cost has gone up. What previously might have cost you 2000 tenge (approx 14 dollars) will now cost you 5000 (approx 30). But, of course, you have to pay less of them altogether. Does this make it better than before? Certainly yes, in terms of day to day hassle. In terms of monetary cost, probably not!

Anyway, as we drove along to our new golf club the other day, we noticed as usual that the traffic flow was erratic to say the least. Everyone driving as fast as they possibly can in between the speed cameras, and then dramatically slowing down every time a police car hones into view. The behaviour is that of school kids playing up a crap teacher - you know, the kinds of teachers who end up with things stuck to the backs of their jackets because they are so unaware of what is going on behind them in class?

And the police here wear these huge, outrageously large hats (I will try to take a surreptitious photo in the next few days to show you), which makes them first of all, extremely easy to spot from a distance if you happen to be scanning the side of the road for trouble, and secondly, all the more tragic.

And as we drove along we were ruminating on what would make you decide to get a job in a role where a) everyone hates you and b) noone cares that you are there, in fact, they wish you weren't and c) when you do interact with your public and they sound like they are treating you respectfully, underneath it all they are really probably hating your guts.

And, how sad is it for a country when its law enforcement officers cause this kind of diatribe? (Answer, in case you had not guessed: very sad indeed). More on this later....


  1. Oh my what achallenge. MadDad is an auditor too, but for a firm of chartered accountants, he used to be Internal Audit a nd Audit commision, but no longer

  2. I thought the Bosnians were bad! Renewing bits of paper monthly? Woah... that is bad.

  3. OMG I hate to be stopped by the police/army/whatever respresents the law - I just have the impression every time I have done something wrong :) And renewing papers every month? that must be lovely as well! Bureaucracy is just a fab thing...

  4. I always think the UK police are going to pull me over for my consistently bad driving. If they asked for a fine, I'd pay. Guess I'd be broke if I lived in Almaty.