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Cry, the Beloved Island

Editorial: Bali Leaders Must Do Much More to Protect this Very Special island.


As Bali joins the rest of the world to mark "Earth Day" on Tuesday, April 22, 2008, it is timely to reflect on the quality of the environmental stewardship, or lack thereof, that reigns on the island of Bali. routinely carries reports taken directly from the local press of hotels and villas being built illegally in restricted green zones; violations of set-back rules along rivers and seashores; blatant disregard of building height ordinances; overbuilding that seal off mandatory open space open-ground areas needed to permit the rain to replenish a diminishing water table; and even the demolishment of religious temples to make way for a new holiday resort.

These reports sadly remind that gone forever are the days when a strong Bali Governor compelled developers to build their resorts in Balinese-style architecture and even required staff to wear Bali-inspired uniforms. Those Bali-stlye hotels of yesteryear are becoming a rarity in "modern" Bali; lost behind an avalanche of Golden Arches, Seattle coffee shops and nondescript strip malls.

And, while reports of violations of the rules established to protect the Island's heritage appear in the local media on almost a daily basis, the actual instances in which developers are brought into line and made to rebuild or demolish structures to conform to local rules are as rare as a Bali Starling in downtown Denpasar.

Bali's tourism business has been pejoratively likened to a "soccer match conducted without benefit a referee." In Bali, zoning laws and environmental codes are held in deep contempt and rapaciously disobeyed by many. Disingenuous developers know that the key to unrestricted building is to break rules as quickly as possible; once caught, to smile sheepishly while being scolded by posturing officials; and to then wait for the inevitable official exemption to the rules, generally issued with the speed of an opening wallet.

Adding to the turmoil overtaking this once beautiful island are the many local lawyers and colluding notaries only too willing to create complex agreements that assist foreigners wishing to hold permanent claim to Balinese lands; contravening the absolute prohibitions on foreign land ownership that exists under Indonesian law.

Meanwhile, land prices rise and water table drops with no one seemingly overly concerned as to how the next generation of Balinese will be able to afford to live on their increasing crowded and waterless island.

Perhaps the ineffectiveness of local officials and the tragic consequence of such bad governance is no better demonstrated than at the once popular destination of the Kintamani volcano in Central Bali. Local businessmen who have erected illegal commercial building that now almost completely obscure the majestic volcanic-lake panorama have been "reprimanded" and then given a ludicrous "15 years" to remove their offending structures. Nearby, unregulated local vendor harass and, in some instances, even physically attack visitors who refuse to buy their birc-a-brac. Not unexpectedly, the word has spread with an increasingly fewer number of tourist visitors interested in visiting what once had the potential to be a world-class tourist attraction.

Sustainability Takes a Back Seat to Greed

Whether or not these visitors will ever return to Kintamani remains an open question. Perhaps in 15 years or so, after wiser men and women assume positions of power and decide to enforce the rules for the common good, can Kintamani begin the long-delayed job of reviving its endemic natural splendor.

Returning to our earlier soccer analogy, it seems there may be deeper and more profound insights into what ails Bali tourism no further away than the next televised Indonesian soccer match. The uninitiated witness to Indonesian soccer may be shocked by the regularity with which players and spectators brutally attack referees, the reluctance of the abused officials to enforce the rules, and the resulting general state of havoc which prevails at football matches played across the archipelago. On a very real level, the state of play of Indonesian soccer sadly mirrors the current state of tourism development on the island of Bali. Rules do exist. But no one is prepared to enforce them.

In the firm belief that pictures have the power to speak a thousand words, we include some recent images of developments now underway on along the Bukit Peninsula in South Bali.

These pictures were taken at an area once known as "Dreamland," on a an island once called "Paradise."

Listen to the wind, you can sometimes hear the sound of the Island crying.

Earth Day Ė April 22, 2008.


click image to enlarge

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