They’ll Always Get You In the End

By Hector

LAST week’s page one story on the licensed thievery of the excise branch – which is whacking everyone with a huge increase in excise on alcohol to “make up for revenue lost” by dropping the luxury tax on same from April 1 (such an appropriate date, as it turns out) is a timely reminder that government and its attendant, acquisitive, bureaucracy will always get you in the end.

This is by no means exclusively an Indonesian phenomenon. Governments everywhere do it. They make a big song and dance – the universally applied Dangdut Law – about giving people relief from taxation, then get on with the sleight of hand involved in gouging back the revenue they’ve “returned” to the people.

The underhand excise manoeuvre is particular madness where Bali is concerned. This is the preferred resort for the bulk of Indonesia’s foreign tourists – they come here for a relaxing holiday, which for most of them with discretionary dollars to spend means having a drink as well (or at least the opportunity to have one). It’s true that consuming alcohol is haram in Islam – forbidden. And that’s fine. Drinking has not yet been made compulsory in any society known to The Diary. And people’s social arrangements and their religion are strictly for them to observe, as they feel necessary or even obliged.

Alcohol abuse is also a problem, which any sentient society – not to mention sensible individual – will seek to limit. It may displease the ulema that people drink; it may – because consuming alcohol is not a Muslim practice and most Indonesians are Muslim – escape the immediate notice of Indonesian bureaucrats that non-Muslims do drink; and alcohol should of course be taxed like any other consumable, as well as kept out of the hands of young people.

But public policy needs to be sensible. Making Bali one of the most expensive places on the global tourism beat in which to get a drink is mindless stupidity. If the national government is concerned about protecting the revenue – and it should be: over the full gamut of revenue, not just in high-profile sting-the-foreigners areas – then it should acquire the mental rigour needed to grasp reality.

If more tourists come here they will drink more (as in the quantum consumed, not as individuals) and therefore contribute more to revenue. If, in contrast, Indonesia’s national excise regime effectively says “if you drink here we’ll make sure it costs you an arm and leg,” they may use those arms (to make a vulgar gesture with their fingers) and those legs – to walk away to more accommodating destinations.

Get a Wriggle On

THE duplication of the Sanur-Kusamba By-Pass is a major project by any stretch. It is being funded by Australian aid, an example of the very practical benefits that flow to Indonesia from the fruitful and mutually creative relationship betwixt Jakarta and Canberra. From The Diary’s perspective, anything that can speed up the business of travelling from the maniac South to the peaceful East of Bali is a great idea.

There is an unwritten law that before you can have order you must have chaos, however. And this plague is upon us in relation to the splendidly named Prof IB Mantra By-Pass, the proper name of this nascent thoroughfare.    The original single carriageway is a poor, potholed creature along much of its length, a function of Indonesian road engineering and construction practice. The new, temporary diversions to the under-construction duplication, to facilitate necessary associated works on the existing carriageway, upset the trucks (sometimes almost literally), cloud everyone in unnecessary – though unavoidable – dust, and create additional windows of opportunity for motorbikes and their careless riders to wreck even more havoc than otherwise would be the case on unhappy vehicular traffic of an inherently more stable nature.

But we should not be churlish. The new duplication appears to be under construction with a proper road base. This may limit pothole opportunities later; for a while, anyway. If they’ve managed to sort out the bits where the bridge joints link the terra firma road to the thrillingly suspended variant of the same, we’ll all be smiling. Perhaps as a present to us all, the traffic police – once the new highway is open – will get out there and ensure that the “truk/bus/sepeda motor jalur kiri” (trucks, buses and motorcycles keep left ) rule is accorded more than theoretical or notional status. They would do something useful too if they encouraged the sensible practice of overtaking only on the right. Who knows? That way the traffic might even flow.

One day the highway will be finished. We suppose.

Plus 15% Cheek

ANOTHER outing to Candi Dasa presented The Diary with a dilemma last weekend. The party – there’s always a party – dined one night at Balissa restaurant, an establishment not hitherto tried. The fare was nice enough and the staff were pleasant (a regular Bali bonus, something commented on by the Australian guests in the party as such a contrast to how things are at home).

But when the bill came it was 15 percent above what it should have been based on the items selected and consumed from the menu. A waiter was summoned. Where does it say on the menu that the prices are not tax-included but tax extra? Ah, well, he said, it doesn’t. But no one else had ever complained.

More fool them. Part of the dining experience should be no nasty surprises at the end of the meal. Honesty is a very good policy. Either you build the tax into your pricing or you say, prior to your customers eating or drinking anything, that they’re up for a fiscal sting in the bill.

The Diary won’t be going back to Balissa. And won’t be recommending it to any visitors, either.

Lilliput Found

WHILE at Candi Dasa, and armed with the intelligence gained from reading last week’s front-page lead story, The Diary and party used a pair of ancient binoculars to gaze upon the wonder of the moment, the half-size cruise ship port decorously built – apparently to half-scale – in the scenic splendour of the environment created by the Pertamina depot in Amuk Bay.

Speculation is pointless, of course (ask any stock investor in these days of post-crunch fiscal distemper), but it is fun nonetheless. Conversation around the seaside table at our resort of choice kept returning to this issue. Who had looked at the plans? Why did they – seemingly – miss the “half-scale” note that must surely have been upon them? Why, since the modest project had been under way since 2006, had no one correlated the known size of cruise liners and the somewhat foreshortened nature of the wharf at which it was proposed they tie up? Why had this significant disability remained unnoticed until – it seems – some passing cruise liner chap observed, audibly, that his boats couldn’t use it. And, most speculative of all, who among the many luminaries who have sought to gain kudos from Bali getting Southeast Asia’s largest cruise port (make that smallest) said what to whom when this unbelievable default was discovered.

There are many wonders of the modern world. We nominate Port Lilliput, Karangasem, as the latest listing.

Dig It

YOU don’t have to be Australian to really love the didgeridoo (nowadays also spelt dijeridu). It just helps, that’s all. So the participation in this year’s Bali Spirit Festival of the renowned Aboriginal group Ganga Giri is good news indeed. They played last November at Echo Beach, the preferred place of local resort for the “Canggu and Others” crowd. Their Spirit visit is partly funded by the Australia-Indonesia Institute. The festival, a must in most people’s programmes, especially anyone interested in the practical as opposed to the theoretical side of promoting Bali, opened on Wednesday. Ganga Giri are doing workshops while they’re in Ubud.

Readers may remember a mention in January in The Diary of a great didgeridoo-guitar combo – a solo effort by an unnamed Aussie strummer – at Ayana’s cliff-face Rock Bar at Jimbaran. Time flies in so many ways. The Rock Bar celebrated its first birthday this week, with a bit of a bash for the select few on Wednesday. Sadly, other duties kept The Diary away from that affray. It’s such a great place to get off your face.

Earth Hour

MEMO PLN: Guys, last week’s quip about Earth Hour was meant as a joke. But thanks for the thought. It was really great to have the lights turned out – involuntarily – for something approximately well over an inconvenient hour, at Ungasan on Sunday evening. But then we did note – with the normal caution one applies to anything to do with the world’s most dysfunctional power utility – that if PLN was to be recruited to the cause, someone would need to tell them what day it was.

It appears that no one did. Earth Day was last Saturday.

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