We Nearly Lost the Plot but Karma Helped Us Keep It

This week I collected, for the fourth time and from our fourth legal representative, the title deed to a modest little plot of land which The Playmate and I thought we had secured in 2003.

The purchase, using a Balinese nominee (let’s call the not-so-fine fellow Kedok) whose businesses and family we and our own family had generously supported for a decade and a half, was of freehold land which turned out to carry a leasehold term that expired this year. The totality of our purchase price did not reach the vendor.

I sense the disdain at our naivety of Those Who Know Better, but this story is worth telling, for its warnings to those easily seduced by Bali’s environment, lifestyle and people, and for the dilemmas it poses to both would-be investors and those supporting a push to attract foreign investment to Indonesia.

Our first disappointment was to find a new, multi-storey health facility edging on to our border, as they do here, blocking our coveted view of Mount Agung and our access to natural light, and rendering useless our plans for two small villas. Upside: We hadn’t built the villas and had their aspect obliterated and value downgraded, like other homes in this “residential” area.

Kedok had “promised” we could not lose our view, just as he’d “promised” our land was freehold. Next, he insisted our notary required double the quoted fee to provide our paperwork. We proved him wrong and he claimed “miscommunication” – an admission of failure to admit fault that runs a close second in these parts to “my friend did it.”

We moved to Lombok for eight months during which my phone ran hot with calls from friends of Kedok wanting to know how much commission they would get for selling our land. Our For Sale signs disappeared. Our taxes were not paid with funds provided.

The Indonesians are ganging up on us, surmised The Playmate. We took Kedok to a now defunct “legal agency”, locked him into an agreed annual fee and percentage of sale price (only in the event of a sale),  got a totally useless power of attorney document drawn up, paid a small fortune and tasked the agency with changing the title to freehold.

Then we got a buyer. Kedok demanded a completely outrageous percentage of the sale price. We refused to pay. He refused to sign. The buyers walked.

We took our case to the third legal agency, whose promises were just as empty as those of Kedok. Big talk, ineffective action and hefty fees describe these legal eagles who are masters of feathering their nest.  Pay us Rp30 million to make a police report, was their final advice.

We collected our file and consulted an honourable Balinese gentleman and his wife. Kedok is mafia, said she. The police will need more money, counselled The Honourable Gentleman (THG). The courts will need money. “Please don’t you do this.”

And so we hatched a plot that involved us grovelling to Kedok and his parents whose warm hugs and teary-eyed performances of regret and disappointment would give them leading roles in a farce called Smile and Weep While You Bleed the Bule.

We offered money. It was not enough. Kedok wanted Rp100 million, because he was “insulted” that we had not toed his conniving line.

THG arranged for us to make a police report that would disappear once the matter was resolved in the “familial” way, so that it could not be bandied about as a means to get more of our shrunken funds. We spent hours with detectives, all laborious two-finger typists, who alarmed our witnesses by asking if Kedok had tried to kill us.

No, just extort us. It’s a crime in most places.

We were lucky, said Kedok, that he’d not stolen our money in the beginning. And not a policeman batted an eye. We finally paid off the little thief, on condition that he authorise conversion of the title to one that could carry one of our own names. The pay-off was less than the Rp30 million fee the nest-featherers wanted to file a police report.

Changing a title involves a “sale” of property which includes paying both buyer and seller taxes and land office and legal fees – a not inexpensive exercise.

The costs of our naivety, of Kedok’s extortion and of the bureaucratic and legal processes of setting it right will be reflected in the sale price. I don’t expect to get a local buyer. Locals will say they can’t afford land on Bali and complain about a foreign land grab.

They should know that we wanted only to contract locals to design and build a couple of little villas which we’d employ locals to service and maintain.

Some of them would be provided with homes. We aimed to attract a few guests who, when not rushing about injecting cash into the economy, would enjoy the view of Mount Agung from their naturally-lit rooms while listening to the ocean rather than ambulance sirens and people in pain.

Unfortunately for Kedok, we both believe in karma.

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