Red Sales in the Sunset

HECTOR’S DIARY

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

HectorR

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017

 

WE had a little giggle this week when we read that the Minister for National Development Planning, Professor Bambang Brodjonegoro, had wondered why more Australian investment was directed to Mexico than to Indonesia. Mexico, as he pointed out on an invest-with-us road show in Australia, was a long way away. It is. They wear sombreros there too, at least in cartoons, but that’s also totally beside the point.

An interesting article in the Fairfax press reported the issue, and included some commentary from Australian superannuation funds, from which Indonesia would apparently like a hand with projects. We note of course that such investments are indeed part and parcel of the global money round. The key to such investments is their legal security and actuarially based rates of return (ROI). Indonesia is making progress towards some measure of transparency and certainty in these matters, but a cautious superannuation investment fund manager would probably wait a little while. It’s different with company-level investments. They only depend on directors’ confidence levels. Or Chinese investments, which despite the official outbreak of pretend capitalism that the mandarins in Beijing have permitted, are still effectively State (and therefore Party) subscriptions, and hence political. They are all about building the next Chinese empire.

Minister Bambang made a direct pitch for Australian investment in a “new Nusa Dua” in the “eastern islands”. To decode that for the uninitiated, the Nusa Dua development in Bali is the manicured tourism precinct at the southern tip of the island full of international hotels that these days struggle to compete against the low-cost appeal, to the new market, of cheaper products elsewhere; and “eastern islands” means Labuan Bajo in Flores. We’ll return to Flores in a moment.

He also suggested that Australians might consider investing in tourism-related developments in the “new Nusa Dua” and instanced water sports and related fun things as examples of where they might choose to do so. How this might be done effectively and profitably is a conundrum. Indonesia’s restrictions on foreign workers, the country’s prevailing low productivity and skills levels, and the promiscuous practice of local and national regulators in deciding that their noses are out of joint and that they will therefore without notice inspect the paperwork and deport anyone found holding a spanner, is one among many other unresolved questions.

In the early booster stages of economic promotions directed at specific targets, in this case Labuan Bajo in western Flores, near where the real komodos roam on their eponymous island, the chief effect is to raise land values and pour cash into the pockets of title-holders. Often this is a relative thing, which can benefit siblings and more distant relations of those doing the boosting. As someone with whom we spoke recently on these matters noted, perhaps such people are looking to family connections for an opportunity to upgrade from a canoe to a cruiser.

We’ll All be Rooned (Well, No We Won’t)

ROONED is what that eternal Jeremiah, Hanrahan, said would happen, in the lovely poem published in 1921 and written by the Australian bush poet John O’Brien, the pen name of a Roman Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan.  “We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan” – Hanrahan was a pessimistic man of Irish descent – now has an honoured place in the Australian English lexicon.

Pessimists and their jeremiads are fixed elements in any society, of course, though here in Bali, they are mostly of the imported variety. Foreigners who have lived here for a long time, or who have frequently visited for what to them probably feels like eons, fondly remember times past when the island was a pristine paradise. That is, except for the natives, who were poor and deprived of most of the benefits of modern life, and who, it is said by some, preferred it that way.

According to that primarily self-serving confected legend, Bali’s unique culture is now facing deadly risk. There’s an alternative view of this. This is that Bali’s culture and its unique religion is just as capable as any other of changing with the times. The island is not a Petrie dish and its culture is not an arcane scientific experiment managed by others. The archipelago survived the introduction of the chilli after all – by the Portuguese, who got them from someone else, naturally, centuries ago – and has made it its own. That’s just a small example of how change is welcomed and quietly managed by human societies.

There’s another aphorism that seems apt: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The British writer Tim Hannigan – who describes himself as a pop historian, just by the way – would probably share this view. He writes from a post-colonial perspective. This is sensible, since except for references to that sometimes beneficial but predominantly pernicious plague by politicians everywhere in former empires who want to display their nationalist credentials, the age of European empire has long gone.

Hannigan is in Indonesia at present on a book tour, which will now take him to Jakarta. He was in Bali this week and we caught up with him twice, once at the Periplus bookstore at Samasta in Jimbaran and again over one of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine high teas at Biku in Seminyak.

He wrote some finely tuned polemic in his brilliantly researched book Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, and a very readable A Brief History of Indonesia, among others. He has also edited A Brief History of Bali which is now on the bookstore shelves and is a must read, a revision with additional chapters version of the American Willard Hanna’s original. Hanna’s ended in the 1970s, ancient history now; Hannigan’s mediates Hanna’s Cold War perspective and takes the story on to current time. 

Telephone Cheek

THE leaked transcript of the telephone call between American President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shortly after Trump assumed office early this year is interesting. It confirms Trump as a president who doesn’t read his briefs, or perhaps doesn’t even ask for them, and underlines the worrying fact that he’s a real estate shyster whom American voters have elected to an office that is far beyond his moral, ethical and administrative capacities. It shows that a phone conversation with him, leader to leader, isn’t necessarily one that will produce an effective outcome or indeed connect with rational thought.

The call, which was terminated early, by Trump, turned on the Obama era plan proposed by the Australians that the U.S. take as many of Australia’s detainees on offshore foreign islands as its vetting processes would permit. There are (or were at the time) around 1,200 of these poor souls, held in limbo because they had attempted to reach Australia by boat from Indonesia. The call confirmed the depravity (in the correct sense of the word) of Australian policy towards foreign people who have committed no crime. There is no morality in denying human rights to others – whoever they are – and detaining them indefinitely in camps on islands in other countries.

It cannot be justified on the basis that it has “stopped the boats” and people drowning at sea. It is simply a profane political process whose effectiveness (undeniable in the short term) is determined by refusing to recognise the real problem: an unstoppable global population movement. It screams “Australia’s for Australians” and wins votes for doing so. That’s an Australian problem. It mirrors Trump America’s mad Mexican Wall idea.

Turnbull deserves some credit for talking to Trump in a mannered and diplomatic way: for not interjecting “WTF, Donald?” That’s the only creditable element in the event – well, that and the fact that someone had the moral fortitude to leak the transcripts (there were others) to the media. These are sorry days.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. The next will appear on Aug. 16.

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HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Poison Chalice

Three people died from methanol poisoning in Bali recently. They had all been drinking at a bar in Legian. The name of the establishment is fairly well known and cautions against going there have been privately issued by many people to their friends. Naming it publicly is fraught with risk. One of the more curious elements of Indonesian law is that people who should be in jail hanging their heads in shame can make you the criminal for talking about them.

So we’ll just say this: People who adulterate alcoholic drinks with methanol for profit (that’s why they do it; it’s certainly not for mistakenly philanthropic reasons) should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Those whose actions or negligence lead to catastrophic poisoning – methanol can leave you brain damaged and blind if it doesn’t kill you – should be arrested, charged, tried and if found guilty, jailed. It’s just another thing that Bali needs to get really serious about.

Gaining a reputation as cowboy territory does not help the island’s tourism profile. If we become known as a place where nut-heads serve you methanol in bars – and of hotels whose balconies collapse and severely injure people and whose managements then decline to accept any responsibility, apparently even moral responsibility – it’s rather likely to be seen as a demerit rather than a merit. Even in non-effete, non-western tourism markets.

Wake Up

It was good to see the response from the fisheries and forests minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, to the international petition raised in the interest of the captive dolphins confined to a small, chlorinated swimming pool at the Wake resort at Keramas. It beggars belief that anyone would subject dolphins to such treatment, especially in the pursuit of profit. So if violations are found (beyond the unbelievable confinement of intelligent, salt-water living mammals in poisonous, potentially blinding chlorinated water) then it would be good if the central government applied its animal protection powers. Such action might resolve the situation speedily, whoever is the enchanted being, a member of a protected species perhaps, who is behind this particular “tourist attraction”.

The resort, we hear, is favoured by Russian tourists, primarily for its off-road macho-man facilities. The dolphins are a side-show. That says something itself, of course, especially in an environment where roubles and vroom go together like a shirtless president and a chesty photo opportunity, but we should not be surprised.

A deeper discussion on Indonesia’s laws as they apply to the apparently hitherto elective matter of animal protection is sorely needed, and not only in the context of the newly announced quest for nature tourism. We look forward to Minister Siti’s direct input. Reform of those inadequate laws, many of which date from the Dutch era and are no longer relevant, is something for which animal welfare organizations have been pressing for ages.

It’s Those Westerners

Speaking of animal welfare advocates, those among them who have been most vocal about how to reduce and eventually eliminate rabies in Bali are back in the provincial government’s sights. Governor Pastika says handling rabies in Bali is not like doing so in western societies where people vaccinate their pets and look after them properly, and where strays are rare. In Bali, he says, we have to kill stray animals because it’s easier to do so and more appropriate in our environment.

He overlooks, as of course he must unless he wants to immediately destroy his whole argument, the experience of India, South Africa and a number of Latin American countries where approved world standard responses have been used to great effect. These are vaccination, humane numbers reduction by sterilization, and effective community education. Last time we looked, most of the places where culling has been rejected as both pointless and a risk of further spreading rabies were hardly examples of well-moneyed leafy suburbs in prosperous European and American cities.

The Governor told a meeting of Bali legislators that animal welfare organizations here should not just shout (he means shout things that he views as unhelpful or irritating) but should help the government by capturing strays, vaccinating and sterilizing them, and caring for them. If that is his view, perhaps he should tell all the little panjandrums further down the line that it is. They might then cease their boneheaded practice of obstructing NGOs doing this good, productive, public spirited work.

Governor Pastika’s line on vaccination is just as skewed, not to say crass. There’s not enough human vaccine in Bali, he says, because the suppliers – the private company BioFarma – have insufficient stock. It’s not that the government won’t buy it; it’s just that it isn’t there to be bought. Anyone who buys that line is unfamiliar with an eight-letter word that is more politely rendered as two words: bovine manure. In fact the government agreed to a contract last year at a unit price it now finds the suppliers have discounted for online buyers and they want it cheaper too. Caveat emptor is a nice old Latin term that fits.

There was another rabies death last week (Jul. 27) in Bangli, the island’s 12th this year. It takes the official human toll from rabies to 160 since the disease broke out in 2008. It is now on the rise again, because the government, its animal husbandry agency, and some district administrations, have dropped the ball. That’s the bottom line. It’s a shocking one.

Takes the Cake

We can report that not only is Tim Hannigan’s latest book on Indonesia first class – it’s A Short History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices and Tsunamis, and has just been published by Tuttle Singapore – but that the Biku high tea that accompanied his chat about it on Jul. 25 was too. We expected nothing less, of course, of Asri Kerthyasa’s fine establishment; and we were certainly not disappointed, though we did leave afterwards feeling quite full.

Tim is a good speaker. He has a knack of sitting gnome-like on a tall chair and looking entirely comfortable. This is a remarkable skill. He took the sell-out crowd through the introduction to his book, the only bit of it, he says, that is entirely imagined. It centres on the Hobbits of Flores in pre-history and their lengthy interaction with the fuller-sized humans who colonized the archipelago towards the end of the Hobbit era. The rest of the book can rely on written and narrative record, and does, rather well.

The official book tour included an appearance at Bar Luna literary club in Ubud and a signing assignment at Periplus at the airport. Unofficially, it featured a rare opportunity to catch up with the author over dinner, which was good fun and informative as always. This special meeting of the Raconteurs’ Club took place at Gorgonzola, which is a fixture on our Bukit List.

Direct Action

Those who follow the detail of the Indonesian-Australian relationship know very well that it chugs along much as ever, beyond the headlines and the scare stories, even in the face of the assertion (lately) by the Indonesian attorney-general that shooting convicted criminals is no longer a pressing priority. Apparently only the first few rounds were prioritized. It is now crystal clear that this exercise in judicial murder was for political purposes. We’ll pause briefly to vomit in disgust and then get on with business.

The business in this instance is the Direct Assistance Program administered by the Australian consulate-general in Bali. The 2014-2015 program funding was doubled to Rp 1, 683,000,000 in the Australian budget for that financial year (Australia’s FY runs Jul. 1-Jun. 30). It funded 16 projects, two of them in neighbouring Nusa Tenggara Barat for which the consulate-general also has responsibility. Australia slashed its future foreign aid funding in the 2015-2016 budget in May, but most of the impact is in outlays for future years and the DAP program in Bali-NTB for this financial year remained at its previously doubled level.

Projects funded in 2014-2015 included: Funding sight-restoring cataract surgeries in NTB; buying support tools for patients with disability in Lombok; providing piping to access clean water for a village in Tabanan; supporting a sustainable agriculture project in Buleleng that researched and promoted dry land farming techniques; purchasing toilets to supply to a remote village in East Bali; funding a pop-up co-working space in Gianyar to develop entrepreneurship among young Balinese; working with an Australian volunteer to provide advanced nurse training at Sanglah Hospital; and providing updated IT equipment to a women’s college in Ubud to train young female students in multi-media skills.

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