THE Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has been in the news almost daily with its arrests of politicians and businessmen, many carrying the Tan Sri and Datuk Seri titles.
This has become the subject of conversation among Malaysians.
To help foreigners, especially those doing business here in Malaysia, below is a compilation of terms that are often used to denote corrupt practices. To the clueless, these words could easily be misunderstood.
Worse, it could land unsuspecting expatriates in serious trouble with the law, especially with the MACC, if they use these seemingly innocent terms without realising their implications.
Here’s a list of everyday words and how they are used.
Jalan – this is a Bahasa Malaysia word for “road”. On the surface, it sounds simple and straightforward. Every road sign begins, mostly, with this word to denote, well, road. If only it was that simple. In reality, it could be the beginning of a corrupt offer.
If someone asks you: “You got jalan ah?” It doesn’t mean seeking assistance for a road direction. In the Malaysian context, it probably means “is there a way to resolve a complicated situation?” Some may argue the word need not necessarily be “illegal” as it could also mean finding a clever way out of a problem.
Kabel – the Malay word for “cable”. Cables are strong, thick wires, which are usually twisted or braided together. Well, in Malaysia, it also means someone in position – a very powerful person, often a politician in high office, or a senior government officer, who is able to help secure a big contract or deal. So, if someone asks whether “you have kabel?” you shouldn’t look puzzled or confused.
It simply means you need to have the support of an influential figure who is as strong as a cable. It’s no longer good enough to “pull strings” but you must be able to “pull cable” for your plans to get off.
Lubang – it literally means a hole. Most Malaysians grumble about lubang or the numerous pot holes along our badly maintained roads. The vulgar ones uses this word with a sexual connotation.
But in the more sleazy world of bribery, lubang means an opportunity, usually an illegal way, to make money. It has nothing to do with holes, as the word suggests.
Kau tim – this is a Cantonese word, which has actually become a Malaysian word, used by all races. It means finished, done or resolved. As simple as that.
But it is also a way of expressing agreement, or to settle a problem with bribery. For example, if you are stopped by a traffic cop for a traffic offence, you may say “boleh kau tim ah?” or the policeman may suggest “macam mana mau selesai, mau kau tim kah?”
“Lu tak mau kau tim, mesti susah punya. Nanti kena pi balai, pi court.” (If you do not wish to settle, it can be difficult. You may have to go to the police station or even the court.)
Ta pau – I always thought that this Chinese word means to pack food or a take-away, but it has come to mean a greedy corrupt person who wants to take away the entire loot all for himself without sharing with anyone, as in “he wants to ta pau everything, how can? So greedy one.”
So, no expatriate who has just arrived in town should go around telling everyone that he wants to “ta pau” everything he can lay his hands on. He can be sure of getting strange, hostile stares.
Selesai – it means to end or the end. It could be the end of a movie, the end of a meal or the end of a relationship. It’s a really simple word but in the Malaysian context of corruption, it means “how to resolve this?” or “it has been settled.”
Usually, the act of corruption will begin with a simple question – “So, macam mana mau selesai?” or “how do we settle this?”. For sure, it won’t be a challenge to a fight or a gentlemanly end to a problem with a handshake. Don’t be stupid. It’s an invitation to begin negotiation for, errr, a bribe.
The English version is also often used, as in “can settle ah?”
Lesen kopi – This has to be the Corruption 101 lesson for our young drivers. It is the first step into the world of corruption in Malaysia. Nobody wants to admit it but going by hearsay and unsubstantiated remarks, many Malaysians taking their driving test believe that they need to bribe the examiner in order to pass the very first time. Lesen kopi means bribing to get a driving licence.
So, they earn what is known as “lesen kopi” or licences obtained via corrupt ways, or duit kopi. Small gratification for “coffee” for the testers. Coffee, not tea. Strangely, there is no such term despite our fondness for teh tarik.
It may sound terribly confusing to tea drinking foreigners but please don’t think that this is the reason why so many Malaysians kill themselves or each other on our roads.
Ikan bilis – it refers to anchovies, those tiny fish, usually fried, found in our national food, the nasi lemak. But it also means small fry. So when low-ranking government officers are arrested for corruption, the MACC is often criticised for just going after the ikan bilis and not the bigwigs, known as sharks in the Malaysian context.
Makan duit – Makan essentially means to eat. There’s no way, literally, that a person can eat a ringgit note. But it is synonymous with taking a bribe. It may be confusing to a foreigner as it may seem impossible to eat stacks of ringgit notes but this is Malaysia. We are versatile as well as adaptive. Many people will tell foreigners that they are able to, well, makan duit. Can one, who say cannot?
Oren – It’s not orange juice. It refers to the colour of the round-collared T-shirts that those arrested by the MACC have to wear.
This is the dreaded colour for all suspects, in handcuffs, being led to court in full view of the press.
You can be in red or yellow but orange is a no-no. The new term now is “jangan oren” or “don’t be in orange.”
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.
On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.