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Hector’s Bali Diary, Apr. 27, 2016 

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

Now that the issue of destroying Benoa Bay so that rich people can get even richer is at the forefront of the public mind, and is the subject as it should be of robust dissention, it’s time to consider another threat to that formerly pristine piece of the global environment.

This is the waste mismanagement facility at Suwung, which for years has been leaching toxic material into the tidal swamps. Mangroves are very good at soaking up foreign substances, but even they have a limit to their tolerance. After a recent row – sadly but the latest in what is likely to be a continuing series – the managers of this excrescence leaped into action and started burying loose garbage under a layer of sand and soil. That helps reduce the stink. It doesn’t stop the leaching, either the insidious sort that you can’t see and can therefore pretend doesn’t exist, or the full Monty of black sludge that, if you own it and can’t be bothered working out what to do with it, you can only hope is never seen by anyone who might complain.

The usual cohort of Mea Culpa penitents, primarily of the imported variety, has appeared in the wake of this. They point out that waste management and disposal is a huge problem in South Bali because development responds to unplanned front-end demand by growing in an undisciplined manner since what planning rules do exist are ubiquitously ignored. In the fundamentalist Gaia liturgy, the cause is Selfish Greed, the secular original sin. Some of those who have woken up and found to their surprise that they’re living in a concrete jungle have even taken to arguing that the Balinese didn’t want development in the first place. Tell that to all the jobseekers.

Public policy is always a compromise. This immutable fact will forever fail to engage the activist mind. This is especially so in relation to the built environment and the issues of managing urban and industrial landscapes. It’s not clear that such esoteric matters win much airtime in the bureaucracy or at the political level. They should. But then Bali is littered with things that should be “shoulds” and “musts” that are viewed as anything but.

All that toing and froing aside, it is surely beyond dispute that high levels of leached toxins should never find their way into the waters of Benoa Bay. Its hydrography is already compromised and its mangroves depleted. It needs more mangroves, not less, to deal over time with toxic wastes from Suwung as well as with riverine refuse (another issue). Its tidal flows should be left unmolested.

None of this will ultimately be achievable without closing Suwung – and installing effective leaching ponds in the interim – and foreclosing on the creation of artificial islands in the bay.

Ni Hao

Along with the news that Chinese investors have been offered an open door in North Bali comes intelligence to the effect that Chinese brides may be looking for local bridesmaids. Apparently it’s the going thing to recruit such personages in the locality in which your nuptials are to take place. It saves on airfares and helps head off family or dynastic argument over who should be in the line-up.

The entrepreneurial sorts here will be quick into that action, for sure. One of the requirements for Chinese bridesmaids is that they should be pretty. There’s no shortage of that class of talent in Bali. In the piece we read on the emerging phenomenon, it was also said that Chinese brides require respect and decorum at their ceremonies. In many places – though not in Balinese society – these are qualities that these days are more remarked by their absence.

The Chinese tourist market is burgeoning here. Perhaps in time the theory that respect and decorum has more than just notional or historical value will percolate down to the tour bus brigade and into the supermarkets they’re delivered to for their snatch-and-grab raids on the way to their accommodation.

We live in hope.

Raw Deal

Still on tourism, the announcement of a lift in European visitors – in January and February: it takes a little time for the backroom boys to press go on the computerized data – has sparked comment. The tourism lobby here suggests it indicates that Europe, while still economically and in other ways comatose, has rediscovered its innate interest in Bali as a holiday spot.

It is famously said that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Raw statistics – which is what we’re dealing with in this instance – are neither lies nor damned lies (unless someone’s fiddled the figures) but they raw, untreated, have not been extrapolated for analysis, and apart from being pretty figures, are therefore pretty useless.

The data we’re looking at counts European Community passports seen at Ngurah Rai and stamped accordingly by a passport officer. It doesn’t account for actual intended length of stay, or repeat arrivals, or most importantly the place of embarkation.

A European Union passport holder may not have flown in direct from Europe on the hunt for the famous local rites that provide parties, Bintang, hair-braiding, a tattoo, and if such be your thing, a bit of nooky. Many such travel documents reside long-term, with their holders, in other parts of Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, and Australasia.

In that last regard, Bali is a visa-run destination of choice in its own right for foreign passport holders in Australia who have visas that require them to leave and return from time to time.

Around Again

The Bali administration has launched a fresh program to vaccinate 400,000 dogs against rabies, with continuing support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The seventh mass dog vaccination kicked off at Munggu in Badung regency on Mar. 18. In the three-month campaign the authorities plan to target 716 villages, according to a statement from the FAO.

As before, vaccinated dogs will be given a special collar to ease identification by a special team of dogcatchers and vaccinators. Animal health director at the agriculture ministry, I Ketut Diarmita, says the program will run more efficiently than in previous years.

That would be welcome. Previous campaigns have died of confusion or ennui (or from siphon disease, which is fatal to public funds). When this has happened in the past, the killer squads go out again and eliminate dogs indiscriminately, even those with vaccination collars.

On official figures up to March, rabies has killed 164 people in Bali since 2008.

Eat Up

The 2016 Ubud Food Festival – it’s Janet DeNeefe’s writers’ festival spinoff (yes, we’re sure there will be fragrant rice somewhere in the mix) – will be tempting a lot of tummies and taste buds on May 27, 28 and 29.

DeNeefe, who sent us a note about it on Apr. 19, says there’s a great lineup of talent. This includes Indonesian culinary icons Sisca Soewitomo, William Wongso, Mandif Warokka, Petty Elliott, Bara Pattaridjawane and Bondan Winarno, award-winning cocktail-guru Raka Ambarawan, celebrated pastry chef Dedy Sutan, local raw food masters chef Arif Springs (Taksu) and chef Made Runatha (MOKSA), New York-trained sate king Agung Nugroho, and budding local agricultural star Tri Sutrisna.

From overseas, we’ll see Margarita Fores, the 2016 “Asia’s Best Female Chef” winner; Australian tapas legend Frank Camorra; Singapore’s Julien Royer (he’s supported by Cascades Restaurant); Jamie Oliver’s seafood sustainability champion Bart Van Olphen; high profile food photographer Petrina Tinslay; and found-and-foraged chef Jessie McTavish.

Local talent includes Kevin Cherkas of Cuca; Eelke Plasmeijer of award-winning Locavore; pastry icon Will Goldfarb of Room4Dessert; head chef of CasCades Restaurant Nic Vanderbeeken, Mozaic’s modern maestro Chris Salans; Bisma Eight head chef Duncan McCance; sushi master Yuki Tagami; culinary expert Diana Von Cranach; and French sommelier Antoine Olivain of Bridges.

The three-day program includes free Think, Talk, Taste sessions at Taman Kuliner, the festival hub; day and night markets; live music; film screenings; yoga (almost nothing happens in Ubud unless you flex); Kopi Korner; and a Festival Bar that will stay open late (which in Ubud seems to mean “after 10pm”); Special Events, where chefs will put their best plate forward for your personal tasting pleasure.

For those with the energy or kilojoules to work off as a result, there are food tours and workshops. Festival tickets are now on sale.

Farewell

It was sad to see on Apr. 17 that Gerard Delhaes, one of Lombok’s more quietly visible expats, had died. He was in his early seventies, which from the perspective of many in his age cohort, is far too young to shuffle off.

We must all do so eventually, of course. This fact of life begins to become a conscious response to successive birthdays at some point after the hubris of invincible youth is sensibly foregone. But it is nonetheless difficult to deal with friends’ departures. They are always untimely.

Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly newspaper the Bali Advertiser.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Apr. 1, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

In a Word: Tosh

Proposals lately aired that would further limit the number of foreign workers in Indonesia are sensible. As a medium- to long-term strategy they are surely free of any downside. Though that would be in the context of the further development of the nascent ASEAN free market where, as in the European Community, state borders and indeed national citizenship would become progressively less important.

But most foreign workers in Indonesia are not “white”, as economic ministers looking for nationalistic headlines like to suggest. That old pejorative is code for “former colonial oppressors and their running dogs”. Indonesians are not disadvantaged because 70 years of independence has failed to free them from the fiscal drag of the colonial era. Instead, they are not as advantaged as they could be, because their governments have failed for seven decades to build an open, educated society and legislate for the competitive economy that would then have developed.

Nationalistic claptrap offers nothing of value. It produces only deflective, self-serving political rhetoric.  The economy does not run on rhetoric. It runs on money. If Indonesians desire progress, which they sensibly do, the ex-colonial cringe is a tiresome mindset they should have sent to the junkyard long ago.

A real economic imperative facing Indonesia is foreign investment. The national investment board, announcing recently that a “one-stop-shop” would soon open (good luck with all the sub-national impediments, chaps) said it estimated US$23 billion in planned investment was forgone in the five years 2007-2012 because regulatory and administrative holdups, and endemic corruption, chased it away.

So far as employment goes, if there are Indonesian workers who can do the job, no one in their right mind would recruit anyone else (in Indonesia). But what’s needed is an effective middle economy in the huge space between local global-list enterprises and the small-to-micro business sector (both of which work well).

That requires not only coordinated policies that actually work and are implemented, including foreign investment, but also a cultural change: No more “passing” people as qualified because not to do so would be culturally embarrassing (or invidious to the interests of and continued presence in Indonesia of the examiner); a real work ethic inspired from the top (that’s where the bosses work harder than those they employ); an education system that produces young people with well rounded global skills; and a health system that keeps people healthy and therefore productive.

It also requires effective public infrastructure, both physical and human. And last, though certainly not least, it needs government and business environments that are notable for minimal corruption and sound judicial decisions rather than the reverse of this.

“Expats” (a ridiculous word) have a limited role in Indonesia’s efforts to build a truly balanced economy. Foreign workers should be regulated by legislation, but in the context of an environment in which private profit (universally and fairly taxed as a revenue growth stream) is recognized and supported as a generator of wider wealth. Now there’s another vacant space that could and should be filled with objective, forward-thinking debate.

Take a Break

When the diary in Ubud, which is often because it’s a fun place to be – it’s got everything, after all, from spirit festivals to sex therapy (either amateur or professional) – we’re often to be found at Warung Semesta in Jl Monkey Forest. It has very nice coffee, a decent café-style menu, and reliable WiFi. The latter is essential these days since you carry your office with you in your laptop.

It’s attached to the Tegal Sari resort, which specializes in the Japanese tourist market but not exclusively so. As a drop-in spot for shopped-out shoppers, Semesta’s hard to beat, too, as it’s located just round the corner from where Jl Hanoman meets Jl Raya Pengosetan and segues into Jl Monkey Forest. (Hanoman is named after Hanuman, monkey hero of the Ramayana.)

The establishment is very near the monkey forest itself. A little troupe of macaques can sometimes be seen foraging in the mango trees outside or performing trapeze-style on the PLN wires.

Doris, Mate!

Dining über-casual the other night at Warung In-Salt on Jl Pantai Balangan at Ungasan turned into a better experience than ever. Tony Eltherington, aka Doris Day for reasons that are still not fully explained but who is the diary’s favourite mariner for all sorts of reasons his modest approach to achievement forbids him to boast or boost, was also there and in fine style.

He was shore-based at the time but told us he was shortly back off to his floating home, a nicely fitted out former West Australian crayfish boat, for its next tour of duty to the Mentawai Islands and beyond with surfing-diving-fishing fans in tow.

He gave us one of his new corporate T-shirts as a memento. It’s a fetching black and has a logo which – from a distance – resembles that of a particularly sought-after brand of motorbike that goes vroom in an expensively classy way.

Bombast Away!

The risk Bali faces of slipping behind in the race to win market share in the highly competitive international tourism market has lately come to the fore as a topic of official conversation. That this has been primarily in a constructive sense is a significant benefit. Applied analysis beats boring bombast any time, as an indicator of which of the paths thus far less travelled should in fact be chosen.

State reform minister Yuddy Christiano recently said that despite Bali’s popularity there were still areas that required improvement, among them measures to avoid the slightest risk of not providing the best service. That’s a fair point. It depends on the view of the tourists concerned what service can be defined as best. But most people want things that work efficiently and on schedule.

Over to Bali tourism head Anak Agung Gede Putra Yuniarta, who points out that the key to maintaining visitor levels and providing a better experience in spite of rising costs lies in creativity and services.

His list of must-do’s includes creating tour packages that show visitors more of Bali and encourage repeat business, enough electricity, road infrastructure that gets tourists to and from their ooh and aah places without giving them a headache or a conniption, and improving the environment of tourism sites.

He also notes that domestic tourists these days can visit Singapore and Malaysia and spend less doing so than if they came to Bali.

In this context, efforts to build up the nascent Indian tourism trade would be boosted by direct flights to Bali and free visas. Figures for January and February this year show 17,400 Indian tourists visited, up 47.5% on the same months last year.

It seems Indian tourists are impressed with the artistry and customs of Balinese Hinduism and yoga is a modern cultural connection. There was a conference in Nusa Dua on Mar. 26-28 from which further Indian media promotion was expected.

Free visas are certainly an issue. The government last year expanded the list of countries for which VOA charges would be removed and this year announced a further expansion, to 40 countries. Australia was on the first list but then wasn’t, the reason given being that it did not offer a reciprocal privilege to Indonesian travellers. Yes, well, perhaps someone was finding a plausible excuse after removing his foot from his mouth.

Now a court has ruled that free visas must be reciprocal or that they are otherwise illegal (apparently this is the intent of existing legislation). This is a further embarrassment for tourism minister tourism minister Arief Yahya. A significant number of countries on Jakarta’s fanfare of free visa felicities do not offer reciprocity. The dogs have been eating his homework yet again.

That’s the Spirit

The Bali Spirit Festival got under way in Ubud yesterday (Mar. 31) and runs until Sunday (Apr. 5). It’s in its eighth year. Like other song-and-dance shows on the calendar it may face problems in the future as the demographic of Bali tourism changes and Bali – inevitably – with this. But that shouldn’t worry inspirer-guru of the Global Celebration of Yoga, Dance & Music Meghan Pappenheim this year, or the happy-clapping collective which organizers said was expected to number 6000 and come from more than 50 countries.

There’s all the usual material at the festival’s two venues, one for the day-long workshops and the Agung Rai Museum of Art Open Stage for nightly world music concerts. Both venues also feature markets focusing on health and wellness through organic and healthy foods, crafts, clothing and merchandise.

But there was one item listed in an electronic promo that came our way about which we would be less than ecstatic if it was anything to do with us. It was something called Estatic Dance. Perhaps you stand rooted to the spot and fiddle with your cursor?

Hector tweets @scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz