According to the Road Transport Department (JPJ), getting a driver’s license in Malaysia is ‘simple and easy’. All you need to do is to register yourself with a driving school, go for the theory examination, complete a minimum 16 hours of driving lessons and, lastly, complete the JPJ practical driving test. But one step that you won’t find anywhere is paying under the table to guarantee a pass.
Of course, you’re not going to find any instructions for that because it’s under the table lah, duh. But when it comes to what’s commonly known as kopi-o licenses or kopi lesen, you’d definitely know someone who has one. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
It’s kinda common knowledge that this duit kopi thing happens, but after this intern’s experience in getting her license and talking to some people who recently got their licenses, it seems that the more appropriate word is institutionalized because…
“You jaga I, I jaga you” is an unofficial driving lesson
From what we found in various forums, it seems the general perception is that JPJ officers might be unfair or inconsistent in their evaluations (Check out the comments on this blog as well). If you’re lucky enough and you meet an examiner that’s in a good mood, then he might excuse some small mistakes. But some candidates also claim they’ve been asked to stop driving and that they’ve failed the test without a valid reason given.
But forums are forums, and there’s no way to really verify if that’s true. So this is where our interviewees come in to relate their experiences – although we changed their names for obvious reasons. Jia Ern tells us that her driving school were straight up encouraging her to pay for a pass:
“My instructor from the driving school told me the ‘pau’ culture of JPJ and even listed out the disadvantages if I didn’t pay the under table money. He also said that he won’t add extra classes for me if I failed the test. That actually sounded more like a threat to me…” — Jia Ern
But Jia Ern was confident enough with her driving skills to go the legit route but, after failing 5 times, she gave in and paid the pau. And guess what, she passed.
What’s worse is that duit kopi isn’t only limited to the driving test itself, but to trial tests as well. Known as the QTI test, it’s a trial driving exam which some schools require you to pass in order to take the “official” driving test. But when Bob – one of our other interviewees – failed his QTI, his school offered to pass him for the low, low fee of RM150. After he spoke to his parents, they decided that paying the RM150 was a much better option than going the entire process again.
And yes, since the Tollbooth of Mordor had already been opened, Bob also paid for his “official” driving test because he figured it was the most logical option – he didn’t have to keep paying to retake the test (he didn’t know how many times he would fail) and it was less time consuming. He added it’s not entirely his fault though…
“I was lacking professional training. My instructor always had excuses to cancel my training classes. Honestly, I don’t think I would [have passed without] this duit kopi thingy.” — Bob
JPJ officers are very forgiving after a kopi break
According to our interviewees, a guaranteed pass will cost you between RM600 to RM800 and it comes with VIP treatment.
According to Bob, the JPJ examiners already knew who he was and asked him to go to a specific bay. Apparently different bays had different routes – some harder, some easier – and his bay was the easiest. Linus, another of our interviewees shared what the test experience was like:
“The invigilator was really nice to me, he even chit-chatted with me during the test. He was literally smiling from the beginning until the end of the test. This was in my mind for years because I would never forget that when he smiled at me, there was a veggie stuck between his front teeth…” — Linus Hii
But it’s not just the special bay and amazing hospitality. We were also told that this VIP kopi package also comes with the special pura-pura tak nampak treatment, which is to pretend nothing happened if you made a mistake… even if you mati engine in the middle of the road.
The government wants to solve the problem with e-Testing
Back in 2018, then-Transport Minister Anthony Loke acknowledged the kopi lesen problem and said the solution was an automated system for practical circuit driving tests, and dashboard cameras for the road test so students could make an appeal if they felt they were unfairly failed. The JPJ conducted trials in January 2020, but things went quiet after a certain hotel incident and the lockdowns happened.
As it turns out though, the idea wasn’t completely dropped as MyEG announced they would be implementing an e-Testing system from December 1st 2021 to February 1st 2022 as a proof of concept to assess if it works for large-scale use.
Btw, we did find one guy who didn’t pay… and passed!
So Brian didn’t just pass fair and square, he also passed on his first try. But rather than cheers and congratulations, Brian found himself being questioned for being sus:
“I passed the JPJ test at one go. But then when I shared this news, my friends and family members didn’t believe that. Some of them even asked if I secretly ‘pau’ my driving test lol…” — Brian Fong
On one hand, this might reflect how prevalent the kopi license culture is (or at least the perception of it). But on a more positive note it also shows that when there’s a wheel, there’s a way.