Bali’s Snake of Greed Is Consuming Its Own TailFebruary 3, 2011
Much has been said about foreigners in Indonesia feeling as though they have targets painted on their backs. We are treated as mobile ATMs. We are on the mahal end of the ubiquitous dual-price system. We are in the cross-hairs of Indonesia’s officialdom, with its entrenched corruption and endlessly inventive ways to charge us more for all imaginable services, commodities, goods, foods and beverages. In some ways, it is understandable, if not excusable. We are wealthy; the locals are not, so it is considered acceptable to reduce our ‘wealth’ and increase theirs by any means available.
This all-but-official ‘let’s grab what’s theirs’ attitude is emboldening the losers, thugs and criminals here as well. In recent months, an escalating spate of armed robberies, home invasions, bashings, stabbings and murders of expatriates are causing people to review their plans to move here, or even stay here. The hard-liners, of course, might say “good riddance”, but those who understand tourist and expat economics are becoming worried. As if Bali’s endemic rabies – virtually ignored by officialdom – Dengue fever, tottering infrastructure, horrific road toll and unsustainable over-development weren’t enough!
Sadly, the spectre of greed that fuels these rapacious rip-offs is not limited to bules. I always thought – mistakenly, it seems – that Indonesians stick together, even while employing increasingly ingenious ways of separating bules from their money. However, recent events seem to show that some Balinese have a streak of ruthlessness towards their own people that is both sad and disturbing.
A Balinese acquaintance was recently invited to go to Australia by a long-time friend. In the course of going through the administrivia required to get permits and passports, he was informed by a gentleman at the Immigration Department here that he needs to pay the FISKAL exit tax of 2.5 million rupiah. Somewhat confused, he pointed out that not only was this tax was abolished as of 1st of January this year, but it was normally paid at the airport, not to the Immigration Office. He was then pressured by an annoyed Immigration official to pay, or his passport would not be issued. When he continued to refuse, he was told that there were ‘irregularities’ in his application, which the helpful official could overlook for a mere 1.5 million rupiah ‘facilitation fee’. The only way this hapless local could get a passport was to meet the corrupt official at Kuta beach and pay him the bribe demanded – an entire month’s salary. This is wrong and disgusting.
But even this shoddy example of corruption pales compared to what just happened to a Balinese friend of mine. Recently married and just having become a proud father, he lives in a kost in Legian, for which he pays 500,000 rupiah per month, a significant part of his salary. His wife, of course, isn’t yet able to go back to work. However, his landlord, a man lacking compassion, but endowed with an additional serving of greed to compensate, has just informed him that his two-month old infant boy is an ‘extra person’ now living in their single, bathroom-less room. Because of this, he is demanding a rent rise of 200,000 rupiah per month, “because of the extra costs”. My friend has no option than to try to relocate his little family. Heartless landlord – almost a cliché, but not one I expected in Bali.
Other friends tell me similar stories – landlords prohibiting fans, laptops and even mobile phone chargers in their kosts. Refusing to allow rice cookers in the rooms, or gas stoves. Demanding that doors to rooms be kept open all the time regardless of privacy or security concerns. When I asked my friend what happened to Bali’s famously touted familial, village and community support, he just laughed. “Where money is involved, no-one is a friend”, he said. “It’s all business”.
Am I the only one who finds that sad?