Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

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How Hot Should The Fire Be To Burn Witches?

May 8, 2013

Indonesia seems determined to make itself a laughing stock in Europe.

After toiling over a draft of  a new set of Criminal Code Procedures, thirty lawmakers, accompanied by the usual retinue of free-loaders, are setting off on a $667,000 junket to Europe to ‘study’ how the criminal codes there might apply to the proposed new Indonesian criminal code.

The only problem is, in their zeal, lawmakers want to criminalise just about everything with the  new code. They want singles caught engaging in premarital sex to be sentenced to five years in jail.  They want adulterers to suffer the same penalty. They want to criminalise the act of sharing a hotel room by two people who are not married. To each other, that is. They want to make it illegal for hotels to accept bookings from guests who fail to produce a marriage certificate. In fact, any unmarried cohabitation will be made illegal.

The draft code criminalises homosexuality. It wants to continue to prohibit membership of any religion that is not one of the 6 permitted by the government.  It continues the existing criminal sanctions against atheists. One, Alex Aan, merely said “There is no god” on a Facebook page, and is currently serving two and a half years in prison for the ‘crime’ of atheism.

Witchcraft, ‘black magic’ and ‘white magic’ are on the blacklist too, although the definitions of what constitutes these occult practices, to me seem indistinguishable from what others might call ‘religion’.

Despite heavy criticism of this ‘study tour’, on the basis that laws designed for Europe will be incompatible with Indonesian  society, the lawmakers appear determined to press on with their taxpayer-funded trip. A more cynical person than I would be tempted to conclude that a free holiday jaunt to the fleshly pleasures of Europe – and the boundless shopping opportunities to be found there – are actually the prime motivators for the trip. That thought had never crossed my mind.

But let’s assume that the 30 stalwart legislators are actually going there to learn how Europeans deal with those issues of  ‘criminality’ that seem to preoccupy and vex the Indonesian government. They will no doubt ask serious questions. But will they get serious answers – or just bewildered looks, a few shrugs, and a dawning realisation of the size of the cultural chasm separating Indonesia from Europe?

I would give anything to see the faces of their European counterparts when the visiting lawmakers ask, “What laws do you have to prevent consenting couples from having sex?”

Or, “What is the best way to punish gay people?”

Or, “What penalties do you impose for being a member of a non-approved religion?”

Or, “For how long do you think atheists should be incarcerated?”

Or, “What is an appropriate temperature for a fire to be used to burn witches?”

And I want to see the shock on the faces of the Indonesian delegation when they discover that lawless vigilante thugs pretending to  ‘defend’ their religion because they have the tacit approval of their government would be heavily penalised under the criminal codes of Europe.  I want to see their reaction when they find out that those who burn churches in Europe, or assault and kill those who are not of their religion, are treated as violent criminals and incarcerated for long periods.

And yet, strangely, the proposed Indonesian criminal code seems to make no mention of religious persecution, forced religious conversion of children, and no changes in the law that states that any convicted criminal is free to become a lawmaker or high government official, as long as he has been sentenced to less than 5 years.

Luckily for many in Indonesia, the new code also seems to have inexplicably left out corruption as a serious criminal activity. Otherwise, once the new code is implemented, it would be difficult to find 3 lawmakers, much less 30, to take these ridiculous overseas trips, because all of the rest of them would be in jail.

But we all know that won’t happen. In the meantime, you guys enjoy your shopping and sightseeing. I look forward to reading your report of what you learned in Europe, and how you will justify using none of it.

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The Changing Of Lovina

April 18, 2013

Every so often one needs what my avian friend Hector refers to as a Short Essential Break.  These SEBs serve to reset perceptions, decompress from the daily chaos of South Bali, and just do some inspired blobbing.

My most recent sojourn was to Kalibukbuk, known to most as the central hub of Lovina – the generic name for a ten kilometre stretch of closely-spaced villages west of Singaraja. It’s a low-key place – which for me is its attraction – and it’s different enough from South Bali to make it either a pleasant stop-over or a destination in its own right.

Since my last trip there, things have changed a little. The sleepy little strip, with its super-low meal prices, its laid-back sellers of knick-knacks,  and its providers of friendly service at approachable prices seems to be starting to develop a ‘down-south’ mentality. Of course, I would expect prices to be higher than last time. After all, Lovina is not immune to the cost increases experienced by the rest of Bali. But the cancer of opportunistic greed seems to be creeping in here slowly and surely.

Local friends here blame the new North Bali airport – a pipe dream that will take a long time to be realised. Even the concept itself  is still in the dreaming phase, much less the realities of infrastructure development or transportation logistics. Yet the mere possibility of its future existence seems to have driven land prices through the roof, and created unreal expectations of a tourist bonanza (and its attendant opportunities for charging high prices) decades before the first tourist plane touches wheels to tarmac.

This attitude seems to have permeated the low-level hawker industry too. As I stroll around, an optimistic purveyor of coral gewgaws tries to sell me some trinkets, worth maybe fifteen thousand rupiah each, insisting that he never bargains, but sells only for fixed price. He tells me, “I will only sell for thirty, no less.” After bargaining for some time with ‘he-who-never-bargains’, the price drops to twenty each for five items. Still too high, so I start leaving. “Twenty each”, he insists, “but you can have one more for free.” I weaken, agree, he bags the merchandise and I pull out the negotiated 100,000 rupiah.

He looks at me with a mixture of disbelief and horror. “Where is the rest?”  I tell him that’s it. “What?” he says with just a hint of fake anger. “You agreed! $20 each for five!”  After I stop laughing, during which his stern facade slips only a little, I thank him for the entertainment and start leaving. He only lets me get a few metres before he acquiesces, grumbling, to the negotiated price – in rupiah. “Pelit”, he mutters as I leave. Yes, stingy I might be, but not yet that completely stupid as to fall for a bait-and-switch scam.

Kuta-style hawkers aside, the place has a relaxing ambience not found in the Deep South. That evening, I savour the quiet at my hotel’s beach-side bar, sipping a wee scotch and gazing over a sea, smooth as trowelled ant’s piss in the lambent evening light. No surf, no surfers – just a few fishermen knee-deep in the shallow waters two hundred metres from shore, bamboo rods held with casual patience. Glorious.

Next day, needing to rent a scooter to visit friends three or four kilometres away (and way too far to walk in my current state of sloth) I find a bike rental place, and discover that the previous day’s hopeful vendor is not an anomaly. After negotiating a ridiculously high price for a day’s rental down to something merely over-priced, I pay and get the keys. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning. “We close at 8pm. Please bring the bike back before then”, says the proprietor.

I explain that, no, I will bring it back at 11am the following day, because I rented it for a day. “Ahh”, says the nice lady, “You are from Legian.” I am nonplussed by the non-sequiteur. Seeing my confusion, she explains, “In Legian, a one day rental is for 24 hours. In Lovina, one day is 12 hours. So I leave, she calls me back, and grudgingly allows that, just for me, she will arrange for the earth’s rotation to be shifted back to a 24-hour cycle, but just this once.

Before she can change her mind about re-writing celestial mechanics, I take off, and immediately marvel at the handling of this little bike compared to my own. It feels as if the road consists of  a bed of lubricated ball-bearings. The steering responds like a startled cat on shabu-shabu, and the brakes are … well, hesitant. I stop and check the tyre pressures, which are unfortunately OK, which means the problem is more deep-seated. Never mind,  it adds a frisson of excitement to an otherwise quiet day, even though I feel like a rhinoceros strapped to an office chair that has been suddenly catapulted out into traffic. At least I have a helmet …

That night, I talk to some locals and expats, and discover that ‘Joger-style’ village greed has surfaced here too. (In the South, the Joger company chose to close down one of its outlets rather than bow to the endless and increasingly rapacious demands for money from nearby villages.)

Here in Lovina, the story goes that a developer in the final stages of construction of a high-class 8-villa complex has just been hit with an economic body blow. Just before its official launch, the local village has apparently demanded ‘village fees’ of 30 million per villa, per month, regardless of occupancy.  Interesting to see how that pans out – if true, 2.88 billion rupiah per annum would be a nice little windfall for the village – if the owner can avoid bankruptcy, that is.

I really hope that this bit of news is not true. Let’s hope it’s one of those legendary ‘misunderstandings’ which are so common here. It would be a shame for Lovina, and its future, if what appears to be an emerging hardness of spirit and Kuta-style opportunism kills the friendly and laid-back character of the place.

One wonders though, if it is the impending, though distant prospect of a North Bali airport that is causing this sea-change, or whether it is something deeper and more pervasive that is happening in Bali. I guess only time will tell.

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The Collateral Damage From The Van Der Speck Sting

April 16, 2013

A recent video uploaded by Mr. Van Der Speck, the Dutch ‘journalist’ posing as a tourist to ‘expose’ so-called corruption and extortion practices of the Bali police, went viral, as its maker had hoped. It showed the well-known practice of paying police a small fee when caught in a traffic infringement.

Equipped with a hidden camera, plus an accomplice with a second camera close by, he rode past a police post, sans helmet, waiting to be pulled over. Following the best practices of journalistic entrapment, he effectively offered an inducement to the police officer to avoid ‘going to court’. Readily agreeing to a fairly high pay-off fee, he then intimated that he would love a beer, whereupon the unfortunate cop, perhaps motivated by guilt for accepting such a relatively high payment from a ‘nice guy’, scurried off and bought him a a few beers with the proceeds – which they then both enjoyed.

Reactions to this sting followed the predictable pattern of those who come from a different culture, where all corruption is considered wrong. Ignoring the distinction between ‘minor’ corruption here, and the unacceptable ‘major’ corruption which is endemic amongst Indonesia’s officials, the media, in a fit of unseemly glee, went bat-shit over the issue. No point in explaining to people that ‘minor’ corruption plays an important role in the complex economic and social fabric here, and is actually beneficial given the subsistence salaries that are the norm.

No, uninformed moralists of all persuasions, holding firmly to their belief that ALL payola is wrong no matter what the circumstances, expressed their condemnation with the usual Bali-bashing. This, of course, caused Bali’s authorities to lose face and crack down on a practice that is both complex and necessary, at least under the present system of dealing with traffic violations. The police involved were disciplined as well – a scapegoat was necessary.

And this opportunistic little set-up is now having very expensive repercussions for locals.

A friend – a local person – was pinged by traffic police in Kuta/Legian tonight for riding without a helmet. Yes, it was a silly and dangerous oversight. Normally, in return for a small fee (for locals) of 20,000-30,000, it would incur a safety lecture and an exhortation to stay safe. Most people I know learn from such an experience and remember to wear their helmet – at least for a couple of months anyway.

But this time, the cop apologised for not being able to accept the usual ‘fee’, and said his hands were tied as his supervisor was watching closely. He kept glancing around as if to find a hidden camera. He then proceeded to write out the first traffic ticket I have ever seen in Bali, saying that all police were being watched like hawks since the Lio Square sting by Van Der Speck.

My friend now has to go to the police station in the morning and pay the official fine, which according to the vaguely-worded citation, will be either 100,000, or 250,000, or 500,000 rupiah. Even the cop didn’t know.  That’s a lot of money for a local person. The printed citation form doesn’t even provide an address at which to pay the fine, undoubtedly because this method is so rarely used here that the kinks in the system haven’t even been discovered yet.

I wonder if the holier-than-thou ‘journalist’ ever considered that his actions would have such repercussions? A fine of up to two week’s salary for a local is savage. Loss of discretionary income for a police officer – who has already paid 100 million plus for a place in the police academy, and a further few million a month to ‘buy a franchise’ for a spot on a lucrative ‘fine’ corner will seriously affect his family.

Am I ‘for’ corruption? No. But the system under which the traffic police have operated for years is finely tuned to the society here, and the ‘fees’ paid for vehicular transgressions go straight to the officer to supplement his meagre salary. In developed countries, without a culture of, er,  personal fee-for-service, the money paid in fines goes to Consolidated Revenue for the government to totally waste on airy-fairy social experiments. I know which one I think is the more equitable system. I don’t even see it as ‘corruption’, rather, it is an equitable re-distribution of wealth.

Will this new system last? I don’t know. I do know the police on the street are not in favour of it because of the loss of their income. Their bosses may be of a different mind, suddenly realising that a hitherto-unrealised revenue stream is there for the taking. I know the average local is horrified that they will have to pay up to ten times the amount they are used to.

But I suspect that when the fuss dies down, Bali’s traffic regulation enforcement methods will quietly revert to their time-honoured state, where there is a social benefit for all who get trapped by their vehicular misdemeanours.

And, despite the arguments for and against the existing system here, the fact remains that no-one needs to pay anything to the police or the Traffic Department. Ever.

All you have to do is wear a helmet, a shirt, keep your headlights on during the day, stop before the white line at traffic lights, and carry a valid licence and registration documents. No-one will book you.

And Mr. Van Der Speck – next time you come blundering into a foreign country, ignorant of its culture and social mores, and deliberately break its laws in order to entrap someone – for the sake of journalism – stop and think. You might be happily back in Holland, but the damage your stupid journalism has inflicted remains.

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Solve Bali’s Problems By Changing A Deeply Flawed System

June 28, 2012

Bali’s popular and caring Governor, I Made Mangku Pastika, is again in the news as being concerned about the effect of tourism on the island. “Tourism has been a disaster for the poor”, he said. The number of people living in poverty in Bali has jumped by 17,000 to 183,000 over the last year alone. He blames tourism for driving up the prices of basic commodities to a point where the indigent can no longer afford them. He also points to increased transmigration by non-Balinese looking for tourism-related work as putting pressure on both prices and infrastructure.

I am sure that for diplomatic reasons, Pastika didn’t mention the opportunistic price increases here ahead of Jakarta’s recently botched ‘phasing out’ of fuel subsidies and the resulting fuel price rises. That increase didn’t eventuate of course – the Central government’s duty to responsibly manage the economy took a back seat to political popularity – but there is little doubt that that fiasco has contributed to the problem as well. Prices of just about everything went up. But when the whole rationale for these cost increases suddenly vanished, those prices … well, of course, they stayed up.

Pastika’s attempts to manage Bali’s tourism bubble without destroying the soul of the island have been laudable. His ‘moratorium’ on further development in an island already over-supplied with accommodation – and under-equipped with suitable infrastructure – was a genuine attempt to rescue Bali from its growing problems.  We can see these every day – grid-locked streets, mountains of rubbish, collapsing road surfaces, environmental degradation, insufficient water and inadequate power supply.

And yet, despite the moratorium, new hotels and condominiums keep springing up like noxious weeds, taking over residential areas, obliterating rice fields and breaching height and set-back limits with impunity. Many developers appear to commence construction without even bothering the get the required permits and don’t even attempt to comply with the 40% open space rule designed to catch rain to replenish a diminishing water table. And as far as the ‘Balinese character’ required in their architectural features – well, I guess developers think that Miami or Gold Coast designs are close enough for Bali.

How can this be? I hear people blaming Pastika – after all, he is the Governor of Bali, right? He has the power to lead the way for Bali – why isn’t he enforcing his own moratorium? Why doesn’t he do something about the infrastructure?

The simple answer is – he can’t. He might be the Governor of Bali –  one of the 33 provinces of Indonesia – but he effectively has no power.

The real power in Indonesia is vested in the districts or regencies (kabupaten), and the cities (kota). Bali has eight regencies and one city – Denpasar.

The head of each regency, via its administration, has total authority, often by-passing the role of the provincial government in making and enforcing regulations and policies. And every regency can make its own rules. So much for consistency.

In effect, the Bali Governor’s role as head of the provincial government is limited to a vaguely-defined mediating role between regencies. For those familiar with the tiers of Australian government, the situation is akin to granting local municipal councils the same rights and powers as a State government, reducing that body to a symbolic and largely ceremonial role.

In Australia, such a system would result in planning chaos, with no consistency in laws, regulations, tax charges and levies, urban construction standards, or anything else that provides the glue to hold civil society together. In Bali, this system results in planning chaos, with no consistency … well, you get the picture.

The genesis of this unbelievable situation came about 11 years ago. In an attempt to decentralise Jakarta’s absolute control and devolve power to Indonesia’s far-flung provinces, the Regional Autonomy policy of 2001 was implemented.  It might have even been workable if the sub-national units – the Provinces – were granted the power to manage their own local affairs.

But no, the post-Dili paranoia that gripped Jakarta meant that districts/regencies – not provinces – were given this power, in the fear that a genuine transfer of authority to provinces might induce them to break away from Jakarta’s grip.

Are all the eight regencies happy with this arrangement? Well, Badung is happy. A large part of Bali’s development, and hence revenue, is generated there. Gianyar too seems reasonably happy with its share of the cake, as is the municipality of Denpasar. But the other six regencies would be close to destitute if it wasn’t for a revenue-sharing arrangement that originally took 30% of Badung’s revenues (and since considerably reduced) to be redistributed to the poorer areas.

So now, we have the sad spectacle of the governor of Bali trying his best to address the problems here, but being stymied by autonomous regencies which not only compete with each other for hand-out money, but whose very survival is dependent on funds from development licences, fees and taxes – and of course, the eternal bribe windfalls from granting inappropriate development permits. “Moratorium?”, they ask – “What moratorium?” A ‘permits for sale’ mentality rules, and Bali disappears under yet more towers.

Adding to the volatile mix of greed versus sustainability is a set of central guidelines which don’t even address the role of tourism or handicrafts – two of Bali’s critical ingredients. It’s a recipe for chaos. I sympathise with the Governor, and I can understand why he over-simplifies the formula so that it reads “Tourism = A Disaster for the Poor”. That’s just politics, although it does make for a fine sound-bite.

The reality is that to improve the lot of the Balinese people requires a radical re-think of all the complex components of the situation. Bali generates more than 50% of Indonesia’s $7 billion+ tourist-related revenue. Does Bali get to keep what it generates? No. Does Bali get any of the huge Visa On Arrival windfall collected from its tourists? Not a rupiah. Retaining a fair share of this money would go a long way to implementing poverty-reduction programs in Bali – but it won’t happen as long as Jakarta keeps seeing Bali as a cash cow.

On top of the huge discrepancy between the money generated and money retained, is the ludicrous situation of having a provincial government with no real power, no clout, no mandate to plan, and basically no voice in the affairs of Bali itself. These functions are being undertaken by competing regencies to the detriment of the whole province.

While Bali may not yet be ready for Bali Merdeka – true independence (nor would Jakarta’s nationalistic power-brokers ever permit it) –  it certainly is ready to push for special autonomy status, with the provincial government assuming its rightful place as the strategic seat of planning and power. It’s time that the dog wagged the tail.

When it does, listen for the screaming of the regents, especially those who have been putting their local interests ahead of those of Bali. They will provide the soundtrack for the birth of a new, mature Bali, one with a proper, hierarchical government structure instead of a chaotic set of divided fiefdoms.

I just hope that someone of Governor Pastika’s calibre, and possessing his vision, will be at the helm when that happens.

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A Nasty ‘Win A Car’ Scam That Breaks Hearts

June 22, 2012

Her eyes are alight and she is suffused with a joy that I have rarely seen before. Her usually stoic nature is transformed by the radiance that today illuminates her spirit, spilling on to those around her. She has worked very hard for years, rarely complaining, and constantly dreams of being able to support her parents on a distant island in the archipelago. Today, that dream has come true.

“I’ve won a car!” she cries, pulling out a plastic token carefully wrapped in flimsy paper printed with complicated winner’s directions. I had heard of those ubiquitous promotional prize deals which seem to abound here in Bali. I had actually seen ads from the Tango people breathlessly pushing the usual line –  you know the ones: “Buy our product, win a car!” But with one car as first prize, its coveted token hidden in one of perhaps five million packets of product, the chances of winning are vanishingly small.

Even so, someone has to win, and it seems that my friend has struck it rich against all the odds. I congratulate her; no-one deserves a win more than her. “But I haven’t told you yet”, she goes on, “It’s not just one, but two cars! I can’t believe it!”

I can’t believe it either, but for me it’s a species of disbelief that comes from cynicism, not overwhelming excitement. As she tells me about finding the Tango car token last night, and another winning one in a separate purchase of a different product this morning, my internal radar begins beeping. She’s on a roll, telling me of her plans to sell one of the little Nissan March cars she has won and giving the proceeds to her parents, and keeping the other here in Bali to generate rental income. My ‘something’s wrong’ detector won’t shut off as I calculate the odds of winning not one, but two major prizes. “Ring them”, I advise, “find out what you have to do now to collect your prize.”

An hour later, I get an excited message. “It’s all real”, she says. “They will deliver the car as soon as I do the registration transfer!” She then diffidently asks if I could lend her 3.7 million “for the STNK transfer”, but assures me that everything is completely safe, because the mysterious ‘they’ will return the money as soon as the car is delivered. “Then I can use that money for the second car’s transfer, and give it back to you when that one is delivered.”

Uh oh. Nigerian scam with a twist. I don’t want to rain all over her parade, but the weather is not looking good right now. I try logic. “Why can’t they pay the ‘transfer’ themselves if they’re only going to give it back to you?” She tells me that they explained that doing it that way would not be legal. Oh, right. But I press on. “If the car is new, why do they want you to ‘transfer’ the registration?”

She tells me they say it is a police requirement. “Have you called the police to ask?” I enquire. “Of course! They encouraged me to do that!” I am momentarily stumped, but then ask her what number she called. “Oh, it’s right here on their instruction page, where it says ‘Call Police to confirm correct registration transfer fees.” Ah, right, very clever.

So because she’s excited and happy, and wants to hear nothing from the King of Negativity that might spoil that, I make a deal with her. I’ll advance the money, but only if my solicitor talks to her first, examines the deal and approves it. I know her – she is very intelligent, honest, caring and a workaholic – but she is also extremely stubborn and independent. If I refuse her request, she will simply go elsewhere to get the forward payment, then run aground on the deadly Nigerian reefs as so many have done before her.

Luckily, she agrees to meet my solicitor, and I sit sadly watching while that worthy explains the nature of the scam to her, shattering the dream of financial independence for both her and her parents in the process. It is a necessary and brutal surgery, and one that requires a finesse better administered by my solicitor than by me. I listen as she describes how scam artists buy biscuits or confectionery in bulk, then professionally re-pack them using counterfeit bags. The bogus tokens – most of them “winners” – are slipped into the bags before they are sealed, ready for ecstatic purchasers to find and get suckered into pre-paying ‘delivery’, ‘registration’ or ‘transfer’ fees to facilitate a major prize which, of course, never arrives.

Those who are cautious are encouraged to check with the ‘authorities’, whose number is conveniently printed on the accompanying instructions. The number is, of course that of the fraudsters themselves, who explain in official tones that declining to make the requested payment will mean instant forfeiture of the ‘prize’. Very few use their own resources to find and call the customer service number of Tango, or any other company being unwittingly used as a front for these crooks. Very few think to question the “Police’ number printed, because this is Indonesia, where the social norm is never to challenge those in authority.

Most are in borderline economic circumstances, which makes them easy prey for the heartless bastards who care nothing for their victims, thinking only to enrich themselves at the expense of others. They operate with impunity, apparently safe from police interference, and make billions while doing so. Personally, I would cut off their balls and sell their scrotums as tobacco pouches before boiling them in oil. Perhaps it is fortunate that I don’t have any say about the implementation of justice in this country.

At the end of the meeting, after living through 12 hours of sleepless joy and the sudden shock of betrayal, I am worried that my friend will be faced with months of regretful contemplation, the annoying mosquito of  ‘what might have been’ buzzing constantly around her mind. But no. She is calm and stoical and simply smiles and says, “Thank you so much. I have learned a big lesson today.”

And after watching how she handled this little episode, so have I.

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Installing Democracy Is Never Bug-Free

June 17, 2012

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Gaga Saga Is Over, But Reverberations Continue

June 10, 2012

The shouting, threats and moralising are over. The vicious little thugs of the FPI got their way of course – there is no-one left in Indonesia with the balls to stand up to these extortionists.  They employed their usual tactics – threats, the promise of violence and lies about the performer’s supposed personal affiliation with the Devil himself.

Using the smokescreen of religion, they browbeat an ineffectual police force into delaying a ‘permit’ for the Lady Gaga concert to try to force the promoters into staging a watered-down version suitable for their sixth-Century sensitivities. Minds like that are incapable of understanding the logistics involved in re-costuming, re-lighting, re-scoring and rehearsing a major concert.

The FPI, despite their ‘moral and religious’ aversion to all manner of commonplace activities, seem to readily forget their objections if they are paid enough bribe money. Just look at the dangdut venues, the brothels and strip joints, the venues where drugs are freely available and where the under-age children of the elites frolic with impunity. Pay the FPI, pay the police, pay a bunch of corrupt officials, and the pathway to Hell magically transforms itself into the pathway to Heaven.

But this time they blew it. Their own bully-boy antics, the traditional ‘hands-out’ feet-dragging by the police, the knee-jerk opposition by an assortment of religious bodies and the smarmy sermonising by a certain fundamentalist-controlled English-language newspaper all combined to get the concert cancelled.

But they all forgot about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Gaga is a world-wide media phenomenon, and once the spotlight had swung onto Indonesia, the country’s demons could no longer be hidden inside a pretty cocoon spun from the threads of political double-talk. Journalists from all over the world saw the cancellation for what it was – interference in artistic freedom of expression – and looked deeper.

What they uncovered, and published, was not at all flattering to a country that claims to be a secular democracy. They noted with interest that the FPI acts as a paid goon squad for the police, and when not under instruction from their masters, freelance as a Mafia-like mob specialising in stand-over tactics and protection rackets. They discovered that the Head of the National Police, Timur Pradopo, is a founding member of the very same FPI that enjoys such an astonishing immunity from arrest and prosecution. They unearthed the intriguing fact that Indonesia’s somnolent president has referred publicly to the FPI as his “brothers”.

They have found that Indonesia’s much-vaunted religious tolerance is a sham, and that any crackpot regional head or mayor has more power than the President, being able to defy rulings from the Supreme Court, closing and burning Christian churches and harassing, intimidating, and physically beating their congregations using FPI mobsters. They have reported on numerous cases of the apparent breakdown of the rule of law and have asked why it is that the police stand by – doing nothing – while these atrocities are committed.

They have been asking why the Ahmadis, amongst the most peaceful of Moslems, have been systematically marginalised, brutalised, and even killed by rampaging mobs of FPI-led fanatics, and the survivors herded into obscene concentration camps such as those in Lombok. They write with disbelief about the killers of Ahmadis getting three-month ‘sentences’ for murder, while their surviving badly-injured victims get six months for ‘provoking’ the violence by merely existing.

They have written about violent attacks on Canadian author Irshad Manji during her visit to Indonesia, where she tried to talk about her book, which ironically promotes tolerance.

They have commented about the rigidities of the Shariah Law-dominated province of Aceh, where new laws prohibit sale of ‘tight clothing’, women are forbidden to be alone with men, public canings are customary, and where punks are marched off to ‘re-education camps’ to recite passages from the Qur’an, their hair forcibly being shorn before they are thrown into a lake as punishment for their personal mode of expression.

They see Shariah-inspired regional by-laws being enacted all over the nation, and the entire West Java city of Tasikmalaya being transformed into a fundamentalist Shariah city-state by religious zealots in direct contravention of Indonesia’s Constitution. The FPI, of course, supports these moves towards a totalitarian theocracy without question.

It’s all supposedly about morals, you see, which the self-appointed vigilantes of the FPI are determined to police. Tight clothing is immoral. Lady Gaga is immoral, and a ‘Satanist’ to boot. Christians and Ahmadis, Shi’tes and most foreigners are immoral. Authors with a libertarian viewpoint are immoral.  But apparently FPI extortion rackets, violence and murder are not immoral. Apparently corruption in government, where literally hundreds of billions – that’s dollars, not rupiah – are stolen is not immoral, nor is unilateral termination of foreigner’s contracts and mining leases, or ad hoc changes to the divestment rules of foreign corporations. And Arabian belly-dancing, or near-naked local dangdut performances are not immoral either. No wonder the world’s media is getting confused.

This country still has blasphemy and apostasy laws. It has punished a man who wrote “God does not exist” on his Facebook page. It allows only six ‘approved’ religions, but marginalises all but one. People of the Jewish faith, at least those with Israeli passports, are not even permitted to enter the country. It has a Ministry of Religious Affairs, which deals almost exclusively with Islamic Affairs. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a huge rise in religious intolerance, its Minister, Suryadharma Ali, recently described Indonesia “the most tolerant country in the world.” No-one seems to believe him, not even in Indonesia.

One good result of the FPI’s self-righteous posturings – and the official dithering over Gaga – is that the government of Indonesia has inadvertently been put under the microscope.  The world has discovered that the beleaguered and endemically corrupt ruling party relies on the support of the radical Islamist parties for its survival. People are beginning to understand why the government so regularly appears to cave in to every religious-based whim and fantasy from these minority power-brokers, no matter how much it damages the country. They are beginning to suspect that because those fundamentalist parties have only ever managed to scratch up 25% of the vote, they will do anything to mobilise the religious vote in order to consolidate their constituency before the next election.

Meanwhile, the world’s media, human rights organisations, and foreign investors are all now trying to understand why Indonesia is allowing itself to be held hostage by a group of radical Islamists whose ideology is not religious, despite their purported piety, but political.  They grapple with the dissonance embedded in nationalistic government rhetoric about undesirable foreign influences, while the same government embraces a foreign pseudo-religious culture, one whose attire, attitudes and modes of political action are not of Indonesia, but Saudi Arabia, the source of its funding.  The oft-stated agenda of these imported radicals is the creation of a world-wide Islamic Caliphate – and if that means the destruction of the beautiful Indonesian culture of yesteryear, then so be it. They don’t really care.

The most powerful weapons than can be deployed against the creeping radicalisation of Indonesia is world-wide media scrutiny of the fanatical religious elements within the nation, and a subsequent growth in awareness amongst its own populace as to what is really happening to their country. In some pockets of Indonesian society, this epiphany is already happening. With luck, it will spread to the silent majority too, especially those tired of being lumped in with extremists and terrorists as being the face of Indonesia.

And if this attitude prevails, when reason and tolerance finally reclaim their rightful place in Indonesia, we will have both the FPI thugs and Lady Gaga to thank.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic?