An amateur video has emerged showing traffic police in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, flagging down buses on a busy street and pocketing bribe after bribe. Our Observer says this form of corruption is common – but that only now, as the government loosens its tight grip on Burmese society, are citizens daring to do anything about it.
This video has been circulating on Facebook.
The video, surreptitiously shot from above the street, shows packed buses barely pausing as men sitting in the back jump off, quickly hand the police some cash, and jump back on, in what is clearly a well-established routine. This video appeared on the Internet about two weeks ago and was circulated by Burmese Facebook users; while it is unclear who filmed or first posted it, our Observer in Rangoon confirms that it was filmed in his city, as the buses’ line numbers are clearly visible in the video.
Burma is ranked 180th out of 183 countries in Transparency International’s 2011 corruption index, with 183 being the worst.

“While this is a common scene in Rangoon, what’s not common is to see it on video”

Aung Aung lives in Yangon.
This is a common scene here – I see this happen about once a week during my commute. The person that collects the bus fare is the one who jumps to the ground and gives the police money. Usually, they’ll give a 1,000 Kyat note (about 0.80 euros). It’s cheaper than the fines the police can slap the bus drivers with if they don’t pay up. This generally happens during rush hour, when all the buses are overloaded, and therefore they’re all breaking the law on how many passengers they can carry. Buses here are privately-owned – the bus driver and fare collector are paid based on how many tickets they sell, so they don’t hesitate to cram people in.
While this is a common enough scene, what’s not common is to see it on video! Many Burmese Facebook users congratulated whoever filmed this video, calling them quite brave to dare film the police. Increasingly, though, people are finding the courage to point out cases of corruption. The new government [Editor’s note: the former military junta was replaced by a military-backed civilian government in 2011] has a lot to do with this. It has loosened restrictions on the media, so privately-owned newspapers are now starting to report on corruption much more aggressively. [Editor’s Note: The state-owned newspapers remain mouthpieces for the government.] Of course, they’re focusing more on large-scale corruption related to business deals – for example, hundreds of people protested against a copper mine project after local media reported that the deal was marred by corruption. [Editor's Note: The Mining Ministry is now suing the newspaper]. However, this is encouraging citizens to report the corruption they see in their daily lives. Hopefully this video will keep spreading online and newspapers will start covering this problem as well – then we will see if the authorities pay attention to citizens’ complaints and do something about it.
Before the change of government, people frequently paid bribes at government offices to get all sorts of paperwork done, like for example to renew passports. This is much less of a problem today, as the government has made a priority of revamping public institutions. [Government employees have been given increased pay in the hopes that this will help curb corruption, and members of parliament are now pushing for stronger anti-bribery laws].
However, while we are no longer obliged to pay bribes, many people still do just to speed things up – bureaucracy is still exceedingly slow. I hope this will change as the country continues to open up and modernise.