A Losing Battle

Decentralisation in this country was designed to give power to the regions and enable them to have a greater say in the development of Indonesia. There have been many bumps along the way, since the measure was introduced by former president Habibie following the downfall in 1988 of president Suharto, the country’s late second president who kept power firmly centralised in Jakarta.

Notably, there has been a rise in cases of official corruption of funds at local level.

In Bali, the governor has been attempting to over-rule regencies in banning the development of further hotels and large villa complexes by refusing to issue any more licenses. This makes sense, because there has long been a glut of hotel rooms on this small and increasingly overcrowded island, which has limited basic resources such as water.

But Governor Pastika’s directive is being ignored by the island’s regents as they continue to permit the construction of new commercial properties. They can do this, they say, because their local power is legislated for at national level.

What the governor has been trying to do is preserve Bali, not to lead it down a road to ruin that the continued emergence of big hotels threatens. But while Governor Pastika has the island as a whole in his management mindset, the regents are mainly just bothered about their home turf, and how it can be developed.

All this leads the governor into a new battle, with the central government and its new licensing laws. The governor says new legislation on tourism-sector licensing will cause “chaotic conditions” in Bali because each of the eight regencies and one municipality will be able to issue its own permits for tourism businesses in their areas.

We agree with the governor’s projection that chaos will ensue when so many agencies around the island are issuing approvals in the one main industry Bali has, tourism. But the governor has been overshot by Jakarta, and the Culture and Tourism Ministry says Bali will not be exempt from the new rules.

Therefore, the governor must try to establish a development forum among Bali’s regents and together decide what is best, not unilaterally. This approach was taken by the governor over construction permits; and it failed. It may appear that it would be difficult to reach consensus on a similar issue, but with regular, not one-off, meetings to discuss proposed new permits and whether they benefit Bali, it may be possible to goad regents into island-wide thinking.

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