Tontos a growing threat to lawmen


  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 02 Sep 2003

By DEVID RAJAH

In the westerns, the Lone Ranger has a sidekick, Tonto, who follows him everywhere, saving his scalp whenever he gets into a scrap trying to preserve the law. In Malaysia, real-life Tontos exist, but theyhave quite the opposite role. DEVID RAJAH, who went on an operation with Road TransportDepartment officers, gives an insight into how the Tontos operate. 

INSTEAD of helping to serve the law, they assist lawbreakers evade the enforcement officers.  

And that is how they got their name, Tonto, which is a short form of Tolong Orang Nak Tipu Orang (helping those who are out to cheat others, here meaning the authorities). 

The Tontos are an organised lot, who started off by trailing Road Transport Department (JPJ) officers and relaying information of their whereabouts to lorry drivers but have now expanded their operations to cover illegal VCD operators and other illegal traders.  

A JPJ enforcement vehicle being followed by a tonto (circled) along Jalan Banting.

My recent assignment with the JPJ enforcement officers began at 9.30am last week for a normal operation against vehicle overloading.  

As the JPJ vehicle moved out of its headquarters in Putrajaya, a light green 4WD vehicle also took off from the car park outside Parcel C and started trailing us. 

This caught the experienced eye of our enforcement chief, who wished to be known only as Syed. 

Moments later, Syed pointed out another Tonto’s vehicle, a Pajero.  

Syed said that the Tontos had become very organised, with certain groups manning only the Putrajaya area, while others waited at strategic locations to keep track of the officers’ movements. 

Soon after, on spotting a tipper lorry, Syed and his colleagues signalled the driver to stop by the roadside.  

The Tontos’ vehicles also pulled up, about 200m away.  

As the Tontos waited in their vehicles and watched the officers carry out their inspection, the JPJ men appeared apprehensive as there had been several cases of them being attacked by Tontos. 

Five more lorries were stopped for inspection, and still the Tontos sat and watched.  

After issuing a summons to one of the lorry drivers, we continued our journey to Shah Alam, with the Tontos trailing us. 

However, they stopped trailing us as we reached the toll plaza leading to the Elite highway. 

I thought that that was the end of the story, but was I wrong.  

In front of us were two other Tontos’ 4WD vehicles, and a third joined in as we approached Shah Alam. 

When we arrived at the PKNS complex where four JPJ vehicles had grouped, the Tontos’ vehicles disappeared. 

We were later told that a brown Proton Wira had started tailing the officers within the Shah Alam area. 

JPJ enforcement director Solah Mat Hassan then told his men to take the Wira to a nearby police station. 

He felt confident of acting this time as they were near the Shah Alam police headquarters and the Tontos were not in a group. Thus, the risk of being attacked was less. 

In the car were three Logic Trunk Radio sets used for two-way communication, a tool of trade of the Tontos. 

The man, in his 30s, looked surprised when told by the officers that they wanted to inspect the car. 

He replied that the car was not his but belonged to his towkay. 

It was later learnt that the man, who was paid RM2,500 a month to trail JPJ vehicles, had started working as a Tonto three months ago after quitting his car salesman job. 

To the JPJ officers’ delight, the man did not have a driving licence and this gave them the “passport” to detain the car for further investigation. 

Outside the station, some suspected Tontos had gathered to find out what was happening to their colleague. 

During the 5km driver from the police station to the JPJ office in Padang Jawa, the officers were on alert, anticipating a retaliation from the Tontos, who in the past had smashed JPJ vehicles and threatened to harm the offices for stopping overloaded lorries. 

Suddenly, the radio set in the seized car blurted out: 

“Parking, parking, parrrking tepi, HQ sudah turun, dia tak kasi chan... parking, parking ... (park your vehicles by the side of the road as headquarters men are on the ground). 

Another JPJ team in Dengkil had a more frightening experience when 20-odd Tontos vehicles surrounded them after they had stopped a tipper lorry for inspection. 

There was a standoff between the officers and the Tontos who did not allow the lorry to be towed away for inspection for suspected overloading. 

The situation became tense when the Tontos resorted to damaging the battery and hydraulic brake system of the tipper lorry and the police were called in. 

When we reached Dengkil, the police car and at least four Tontos’ vehicles were still there. 

The Tontos, some wearing gold chains around their necks, with shirts half unbuttoned, were still working on the lorry, giving excuses that it could not be repaired to prevent officers from towing it away. 

However, Solah stood firm and told one of the Tontos to drive the lorry to the weighing station. He did so later reluctantly in the escort of JPJ vehicles. 

Being lookout men for lorry drivers is only one aspect of the Tontos’ services. 

The Tontos, who started their operations in the Klang Valley in 1994, now also provide tip offs to pirated VCD peddlers and other illegal traders on the presence of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry enforcement as well as to illegal gaming and entertainment outlet owners on local authority enforcement raids.  

Related Story:Services in demand by lorry operators 

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