Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Who will watch the watchers?

Many years ago, long before the Tuen Mun Highway was constructed, we would sometimes take a bus via the scenic Castle Peak Road, which still winds its way along the shoreline, to the Ching Chung Koon Temple at Castle Peak for a vegetarian lunch and a wander around. Though the Temple and the nearby psychiatric hospital are still there, not much else from those days is now recognisable under the concrete sprawl of Tuen Mun new town. So as I drove around the area a few years ago, I was completely unfamiliar with the local roads, relying on a map to find my way around.

Anyway, I was tootling along merrily at 70 kph down a wide road with little traffic. As I recall, the road dipped under a bridge, and I emerged on the other side to find myself being waved down by a traffic cop. More officers stood around, stopping other unwary motorists and putting them through the same rigmarole: “Can I see your driving licence? Do you know you were breaking the speed limit? I will have to give you a ticket.”

Yeah, yeah. Useless to argue with these robots. Never mind that the road was nearly empty of traffic; that all the vehicles were doing the same speed; that there was no danger to anyone, and no pedestrian anywhere within sight. Just take the ticket, swallow your bitter medicine, and go on with your journey.

Most of the time, you can’t win when dealing with the traffic police, though I did once score a minor victory: parked in an unmarked space (the official spaces were all full) in the car park of the Lions Nature Education Centre in Sai Kung, I returned to find a ticket on my windscreen. Oops! The area is clearly marked as a private road, so I wrote in politely pointing out that the police have no authority to issue parking tickets there. Ticket cancelled!

But how many less attentive poor suckers just pay up without checking, so the cops can meet their monthly quota of victims? I wouldn’t be so aggrieved if they occasionally stopped some of the absolute maniacs I see every day driving dangerously on the Tolo Highway, zigzagging wildly across several lanes at once, instead of wasting time ticketing people who aren’t even causing an obstruction (Taipo Industrial Estate on a Sunday – come on…)

Anyway, back to Tuen Mun. As you can imagine, returning along the same road an hour later, I was carefully keeping my speed down to 50kph, not wanting to get another ticket, when a police motorcycle roared past me at over 80, way in excess of the limit. Gosh – what dire emergency could justify such reckless behaviour? What urgent mission of mercy could require such a rapid response?

A little further up the road, all was revealed. Our brave motorcycle warrior was indeed busily engaged in bringing relief to the afflicted … well, bringing lunch to his colleagues at the road block where I’d been stopped earlier, anyway. What could be more urgent than that?

As the ancient Roman poet Juvenal said, two millennia ago: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – who will watch the watchers (or guard the guardians)? Who indeed, I wonder.

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