Thriving tourism in Bali has pushed up the price of basic necessities, often putting them beyond the reach of the island’s many poor people, Governor I Made Mangku Pastika has said, in what he called a “disaster” for the indigent.
The plain-speaking governor, who was internationally lauded for his investigative work into the 2002 Bali bombings when he was Bali Police chief, for which he was made Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia, said an influx of tourists and tourism workers had caused a market-driven spike in prices that was rendering the impoverished even worse off.
“Tourism has been a disaster for the poor,” Pastika, speaking at a poverty-reduction meeting in Denpasar on Monday, said. “As the tourism sector is being developed, the cost of people’s daily necessities is becoming more expensive and particularly unaffordable for the poor.”
He said: “Tourism also attracts many people from outside Bali to come here and work. These migrants drive up the price of food and other necessities.”
The government estimates that there are over 183,000 people living in poverty in Bali — the international benchmark is existing on or less than US$2 a day — which has an overall population of some 3.8 million. That, according to official data, is a rise of almost 17,000 poor people compared to last year. Many of those struggling to live are located in the arid east and north of the island, parts of Bali that do not experience as much, if any, tourism earnings as the bustling south.
Governor Pastika, known for his practical approach to managing the island and for eschewing the trappings of officialdom so favoured by Indonesian officials, even banning food at functions he attends in an attempt to save money, suggested that government intervention might be required to bring down prices or at least to prevent them from soaring even further, but he did not offer any concrete proposals as to how such involvement in the markets would work.
However, the governor announced that five impoverished villages had been selected to take part in a pilot project that is hoped will go some way towards ending poverty.
Later this year they will each receive Rp1 billion from the Bali government to help establish small-scale enterprises that will expectantly create lasting jobs and provide ongoing revenue streams for the villagers.
It is one of the ironies of Bali that as its tourism fortunes have soared in recent years, with last year bringing a record almost 2.8 million foreign visitors to Bali’s shores, poverty remains rampant and, as the figures show, is increasing. In particular, many industry observers have pointed out, the island’s tourism is over-concentrated in the south, to the detriment of the rest of the island and its people. And inversely, the southern areas are becoming so intensely built up that the overdevelopment and resultant traffic snarls it creates have led to dissatisfaction among tourists and residents. Some have pointed to the touted establishment of a second international airport in the north of Bali as a possible solution to the inequity, as it would enable a greater balance of revenue spread.
Meanwhile, Pastika, whose five-year term ends next year, warned that if the current situation were allowed to continue, there would be wider social ramifications for the island. He said that in some cases, cash-strapped farmers might be forced to sell their land, plots in their families for generations and the only real assets they hold. This, the governor said, would eventually end up hurting them.
The governor predicted greater societal inequality and echoed an apparent global trend whereby, he said, “The rich will become richer, the poor poorer, the strong stronger. The smart people become smarter, because they have more opportunities to access good education, while the poor can only access lower-quality education. This creates a broadening social gap.”
Pastika, a devout Hindu who turned 60 last Friday, has made poverty-reduction one of his priorities in office, and on Monday declared that the “vicious circle of poverty must be broken.” That would be done, he said, with the help of the government.
Pastika’s battle, however, is not likely to be an easy one, and he admitted that blocks to his plans had been thrown up by officials in regencies around the island, Balinese he has previously fought over his ban on further tourism-accommodation developments but which some regions, empowered by autonomy legislation, have roundly ignored.
Frustrated, Pastika said it was difficult to get what he called “synergy” between officials of the regencies in carrying out poverty-eradication schemes — and this was due, he said, to “selfish egos, and also political interests.”
He acknowledged that it would be a challenge to overcome officials’ indifference to his efforts.
“That is our big task,” he said.