Posts Tagged ‘Denpasar’

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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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Security Strictly By The Book At Denpasar Departures

March 3, 2012

Departing from Ngurah Rai, Bali’s International Airport, is always a quirky experience. Even more so now, with the passenger drop-off point having been shifted to a point five kilometres from the terminal. Well, it feels like it anyway. It’s now right in the middle of the gigantic and thoroughly disorganised car park. A long walk through jostling crowds brings me to the crowded international arrivals area, whereupon I have to walk another 200 metres to the departures section …

Never mind, I’m there now, and it’s only taken me 15 minutes to go through the congested first security screening post, fight some inebriated turkey for my carry-on bag (because he’s convinced it’s his), put my belt and shoes back on, and line up at the Garuda check-in counter.

A security person scrutinises my bags. “Any lighters in your suitcase?” he asks suspiciously.
“No”, I answer truthfully, because my lighter is in my hand luggage. He neglects to ask me about explosives, knives, guns, box cutters or tasers. That’s fine; I didn’t bring any on this trip anyway.

I pay my Departure Tax and start filling out my Indonesian Departure card. An Immigration official zeros in on me. “Wrong card to go back to Australia”, he declares. I explain that I am a KITAS holder, and that I do, in fact, need to fill out this card. He looks at me askance, then pounces on my passport and minutely examines my KITAS expiry date. It is in order. Then, he finds the separate Multiple Entry/Exit stamp and his face falls. “Ahh, it’s still OK”, he mutters. Still OK? Of course it’s still OK – it expires at the same time as my KITAS, doesn’t it? Wrong. I discover that the essential multiple entry stamp actually expires one month before my KITAS expires!

I have no idea why that is, and my puzzlement must be apparent. “Many people get caught!” says the officer. “But no problem – only small fee to fix …” Ahh, now I understand his zeal. I resolve to check my expiry dates more carefully during my next renewal. I also need to find out why the two supposedly linked permits are not date-synchronised. Another little trap uncovered.

As boarding time approaches, I head off to Gate 6, the designated departure gate for my Garuda flight. It’s completely deserted. Uh oh. There are no status boards and there have been no gate-change announcements either. A few anxious moments later, I am directed to Gate 8, where another bag scan takes place. Then, further on, another security checkpoint officer physically checks my carry-on bag. “Do you have a lighter in your bag?” he asks. “Yes, I do – I’ll put it in my pocket”, I say. See, I’ve done this before. I know that in Bali, you can’t take a lighter in your hand luggage. You are always told, “Put it in your pocket”, for some completely incomprehensible reason. Perhaps airlines think that burning a hole in your own lap is preferable to scorching their overhead lockers, although I have never heard of a lighter spontaneously igniting in either location.

But not this time. “No, you can not take your lighter. Not in handbag, not in pocket. New rules say that we must confiscate all lighters.” I reluctantly put my brand-new lighter in the proferred plastic bag which already contains perhaps a hundred lighters. No doubt they will be re-sold at the nearest warung.

So I wander off to the departure gate – and stop dead. The illuminated sign says Gate 8: Jetstar Flight JQ36. It is now five minutes to my scheduled boarding time, but the plane firmly glued to the aero-bridge is Jetstar’s, not Garuda’s. The first tendrils of panic start to curl through my intestines. “Umm, where is the Garuda flight?” I enquire. “Here”, says the gatekeeper, waving his hand towards the Jetstar plane. OK, it’s midnight, my brain isn’t working and I’m tired, but I can still tell the difference between aircraft livery, even at night.

The gate person looks at my baffled visage and relents. “Here, but later. In one hour. Jetstar flight is delayed. Blocking gate, so Garuda plane has to wait. Sorry.” Damn. I am specifically flying Garuda this time after my last rage-inducing experience with Jetstar, because it’s cheaper, cleaner, more comfortable and the service is light-years ahead of Jetstar. And here I am, still unable to get away from their operational problems even when flying with a different airline! I feel like I am being haunted.

Luckily, there is a smoking room in the departure area for addicts like me, and I head off for a consoling puff. Of course, I have no lighter. There is only one traveller – from Aceh – who has one, and he charitably allows everyone in the room to use his. I start thinking that maybe if I spin some pathetic yarn, I can somehow borrow my lighter back from the security checkpoint. I will even do it under armed guard if necessary. So I head back to the place where all the lighters have been confiscated. I am not overly optimistic, because, you know, security is security, but I’m willing to give it a go.

Explaining the flight delay, my desire for a cigarette and my need to borrow a lighter is easier than I anticipate. Without even blinking, the security man hands me my lighter and smiles. I think to myself, ‘but what about the new rules?’ He apparently reads my mind. “Rules say we must confiscate all lighters.” He grins. “But no rule about giving them back!”

I return to the smoking room. The Aceh man has disappeared. In the absence of Boy Scouts, desperate would-be smokers are rubbing sate sticks together to try to make fire. I brandish my lighter triumphantly, and explain how I got it. Five minutes later, every smoker in the departure lounge has their lighter back.

Ah, Bali – I just love your quirky rules!

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How To Go Clinically Insane Paying a Water Bill

January 13, 2011

Paying a water bill should be a short, simple process – right? Wrong. At least, not in Bali. The labyrinthine mechanics of local bureaucracy seem designed to obstruct and frustrate. Small wonder some of us expats are rendered clinically insane or become alcoholics after a year or so here.

Last month, two full days before my payment was due, I wander down to my local BPD office to pay my water bill. As far as I can tell, the BPD is some sort of bank branch that accepts various utilities payments. The gentleman who is usually behind the counter, a relentlessly cheerful chap, is there, smiling as usual. He scrutinises my account details carefully, smiles happily, and says “No”. To the best of my knowledge, that is the only word of English in his vocabulary. That, together with my rudimentary Bahasa, makes communication somewhat difficult. “No? Why not?” I ask. “Computer broken”, is the bland reply.

So I tell him I’ll come back later. “No” he says again. Apparently, despite the office being open until 5pm, he can only take water payments up to 2pm, and not a second later. “OK, I’ll come back tomorrow”, I offer. “No”, he says. “Holiday tomorrow.” I helpfully point out that the holiday is actually in two days, not tomorrow. “No”, he replies happily. “For me, holiday tomorrow”.

Through a diligent questioning process consisting of some Bahasa, lots of sign language and frequent use of the word “No”, I finally unearth the date on which the office will be open again, and tell him that I will come and pay then. Guess what? I get the big “No” again, because apparently once a payment deadline is missed, I have to pay at the head office in Denpasar somewhere. I say that I haven’t actually missed a payment, it’s more that they won’t take my payment. He says “No”. I tell him it’s a long way to go. “No”, he says. “Only 40 minutes on the bike, unless macet“. Unless? There’s always a traffic jam in Denpasar!

I grip my lip firmly to stop from screaming, but still can’t stop myself from emitting muted wails of anguish. I feel like a John Cleese clone trapped in an episode of Fawlty Towers, Bali. Back at home, I look up the address – a Jalan Bedahulu. Oh great – there are thirty-three Jalan Bedahulus in the one block! They seem to be numbered, but this being Bali, the numbering is completely random. One hour later, I am hopelessly lost in a maze of unnumbered streets and lanes, looking for an unsignposted building that probably doesn’t even exist. It feels like I have ridden half-way to Lovina. I give up, spend another hour getting home and have a scotch and sulk.

A few days later, I enlist the services of a friend’s driver to go find the damn place and pay the damn bill. After much difficulty, he finds the elusive head office, and goes up to the counter. Another smiling man is there, who again scrutinises the proffered account details carefully before saying “No. Computer broken.”

I think I will have to do what I did last time. Ignore the damn bill until the man comes to the villa with his bag of tools to disconnect the water. Then I’ll pay him, and everyone can live happily – until next time the computer is broken.