They’re Picking Our Pockets Again

Sketchy reports that the Finance Ministry may from January 1 impose import duties on personal goods over US$250 in assessed value brought into Indonesia by international travellers fly in the face of common sense and threaten to impede achievement of Indonesia’s ambitious tourism targets.

Hopefully Bali’s tourism industry and authorities are seeking clarification and objecting strenuously to any regulation that will unfairly penalise foreign visitors and ultimately retard their tourism businesses.

Unclear reports suggest an individual traveller will be taxed on personal items which exceed a value of $250 and families on $1,000. It’s not certain if the goods must be new. So chaps, until there’s clarification, don’t bring your laptop and mobile phone, your cosmetics, camera, watch, sunglasses and prescription spectacles when you come on holiday to Indonesia.

That’s all a bit regressive. Who wants a holiday in which you blunder about blindly, unable to communicate, tell the time or take happy snaps? The only people prepared for that type of experience are the low-spending, rabble-rousing tourists that sectors of the Bali industry would like to discourage.

Let’s hope the woefully scanty reports to date have generated wrong conclusions, which would be understandable since the regulation that will come into effect in less than three weeks has been accompanied by the usual lack of public and industry consultation, advice or explanation.

Clearly it’s a situation similar to the muddled introduction of the Rp2.5 million fiskal tax for some residents departing Indonesia which authorities have now sensibly decided to abolish. This new potential horror, however, has already created widespread objection and confusion and will instantly boost both the mayhem factor and opportunities for corruption at our ports of entry.

Already, repeat international visitors are saying: No more. We pay to enter the country. We pay to exit the country. We pay an outrageous 300 percent duty on alcohol. This is too much. We will go elsewhere.

Is Indonesia a tin-pot dictatorship that repeatedly misfires from the hip, or is it a developing democracy with a commitment to tourism and some real allegiance to its purported stance of respect for diversity?

After arriving to live in Bali, my immigration agent advised me not to bring any personal belongings because it was “too difficult” and besides, I could buy everything I needed here.

Frankly, to someone who has purchased, renovated and furnished property, bought vehicles and all manner of household and personal goods, consumables and entertainment over five years of living in Indonesia, and was no slouch at spending over a preceding decade of frequent holidays, it is utterly offensive that some misguided system prevents me from bringing treasured personal belongings back to my home in Bali.

Many of those items originated in Indonesia and, no, they can’t be replaced because they are personal choices of minor original works of the time. It’s a disgrace that I can’t bring my Ubud artworks and Papuan masks here, to my home in their country of origin. Neither, apparently, can I bring soft furnishings hand-crafted for me by my mother or gifts of sentimental value from friends and family around the world whose only monetary value is to the increasingly avaricious Customs Department.

And what will happen when Bali’s foreign residents travel internationally with their mobile phones and laptops? Will they be charged duty on goods valued at more than $250 each time they re-enter the country they have chosen as home?

If our lawmakers are so extremely cosseted that they don’t know the value of their publicly provided and nowadays basic communications tools, as it seems, then they should be given a moderate budget and a shopping list, and be sent out to explore the market and account for their spending. Perhaps then they’d reassess the rationality of the new regulation. Many of them couldn’t upgrade their current mobile phone for $250.

If the new regulation is a bizarre ploy to gain duty on goods purchased duty-free elsewhere, then Indonesia risks the wrath of duty-free operators around the world, who are closely aligned with their nearby airports, for impinging on sales and profits.

Indonesia should rise above the mentality of its rapacious vendors, from street traders to property “agents,” who often operate with the conviction that a foreigner should pay hundreds of percent above market value for any product.

Until the nation rids itself of such double standards and discriminatory regulations that penalise non-Indonesians, then the national motto of Unity in Diversity is a shambles and an embarrassment.

Unity in Diversity is an honourable and appropriate objective for such a disparate nation as this, especially with its history of ethnic and religious conflict, but to cease to apply the aim, either at national borders or for foreigners within them, obliterates the good intention.

Especially with Bali, international visitors and residents are seriously questioning if they are welcome and are assessing the alternatives. If governments continue to penalise these people, they will cease to visit and they will go elsewhere to live. If that’s what Indonesia or Bali wants, then please have the courtesy to say so. If not, then stop alienating these people who, like it or not, contribute significantly to general prosperity and welfare.

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