MUDIK – The Annual Indonesian Phenomena at the End of Ramadan

The presence of hundreds of thousands of dedicated Javanese workers – seasonal migrant laborers, skilled workers, right up to professionals – in Bali undoubtedly boosts the economy and keeps things running smoothly on this island of a thousand ceremonies.

So when Lebaran, the Indonesian term for Idul Fitri holidays at the end of Ramadan, looms close the island braces itself for a mass exodus of a large portion of the workforce. Construction and production come screeching to a halt. For the majority who cannot afford air travel (even if there were enough flights),  the main artery from Denpasar to the harbour at Gilimanuk becomes an asphalt gauntlet for the brave and desperate.

Once they get to Gilimanuk long lines await – the line of backed up cars and buses reaches 5-6 kilometers back. It can take up to ten long hours before cars even get to the ticket booth, let alone get on one of the 30 ferries that will log 450 trips across the straits daily  between them that have been provided this year.

Last year more than two hundred thousand passengers went across to Java. At the time this story is being filed around ninety thousand passengers have already left. These figures are conservative. And once they get to Java and head for their respective homes the trials are still not over. So far several hundred motorists have lost their lives during this annual exodus which Indonesians call “Mudik” or “heading back upstream”.

While the port authorities and the police have done their best to provide assistance to the scores of thousands of motorcyclists by erecting canopies, installing fans, putting in rows of portable toilets and other facilities, it is still a test of the travelers’ patience, particularly young children and infants, many of whom ride cramped with their parents on small motorscooters for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers. Even before getting on the ferry there are extensive checks on each individual vehicle run by squads of police and finance companies try to check every vehicles plates against a computerized list. Teams of contracted spotters ring through number plates to a temporary nerve center where it gets checked. When asked, one of the spotters admitted that some might get away, then added with a grin: “But not many..”

And of course with numbers like this there are bound to be some mishaps: at one point  an announcement come over the port’s PA system with an appeal from a distraught mother on the other side in Ketapang for help in locating her child who had managed to get left behind in Bali at the last moment. But despite the chaos, for most the rare opportunity to meet up with loved ones is too valuable to forgo.

A typical case is “N” who is travelling to Jember with her one year old daughter and her husband and a pile of luggage – tote bags, plastic bags, you name it –  on their 125cc automatic scooter. She and her husband work in Sanur, 6 days a week through the year. They take one holiday a year during Lebaran, 2 days plus of which are taken up with the road trip there and back. In all they will be lucky to spend 8 days with their family before making their way back: “But that’s just the way it is, Mas” she said with a smile.

see photo essay

Adat – Handling the Double Edged Sword

originally published in the Jakarta Post’s supplement, Bali Daily as part of a ‘conversation’ between Made Wijaya, Diana Darling, and myself under the title of “I Love Bali – Handling the DOuble Edged Sword of Adat”

Adat is a double edged sword. On the one hand if it is used in the service of the well being of members of the community it provides structure and strength; on the other hand if it becomes an ideal which dictates that it be served mindlessly, it becomes a tool for the wily to manipulate to their own benefit.

Let’s get it straight: Adat is a social convention, a community contract. Adat is no more sacred than constitutional law in a democratic process. It’s not the sacred utterance of a prophet, for example.

Yet adat has been used as an excuse to avoid adhering to a range of things from human rights to environmental responsibility. And worse, there have been many documented cases where adat was the premise for violence. Anyone who has lived closely enough to Balinese society know this. To put it into context: with few exceptions, outside of the traditional dictates of adat, the sense of civic responsibility in Bali now is at an all-time low. Community money is corrupted. Ceremonies regularly disrupt and reroute major traffic arteries “because they can”. People dump garbage wherever they want. One Desa Adat near Denpasar has even allowed part of their Pura Dalem’s land in the mangrove to be used for an illegal dump. Another Pura Dalem in Mengwi appears to be using garbage for landfill. In Ubud the community garbage trucks having been dumping the trash in an illegal site in a ravine in Pejeng. Forests and rivers are desecrated. People behave selfishly.

Drivers are inconsiderate on the roads. 99% of Balinese are not interested in helping unfortunate fellow Balinese who are not in their Banjar or Desa Pakraman or even clan. The Pecalang (adat “policemen”, no female pecalang so far) in Ubud chase off beggars from Muntigunung whenever they can. The only group helping this poverty stricken Balinese region is driven by Swiss citizens – not by any wealthy Balinese communities looking to give their less fortunate bretheren a leg up. And let’s not start on universal human rights.

In answer to Diana’s statement that expressing an opinion on adat is like judging another person’s mother, sure. But what would you do if you saw your neighbor’s mother stabbing her child with a knitting needle? Am I, as an Indonesian citizen living in my own country, not allowed to state any opinions on the culture of an island on which I have resided for more than three and a half decades? Should I succumb to a romanticized view?

If I live here and am committed to being here, pay my taxes, penanjung batu etc, I do feel that I am part of the situation. Obviously it is not my place to lead any charge on the establishment of adat if indeed any frontal approach would lead to any positive result. However I feel I certainly should have the right to express my views – that’s how it works in the Petri dish of culture – even if no Balinese heeds it.

It’s all well and good not to judge another’s mother, but it so happens that the “other’s mother” spends a lot of time judging ‘us’. In quite a few Desa Pakraman ‘outsiders’ living in their boundaries are subject to very high tithes which really amount to shakedowns. Outsiders are never rarely accepted completely as equals within the community though of course those who have married in are accepted by their families. To be sure it is a two way street with many expats just wanting to “Ibiza-nize” Bali with no sense of context at all. It’s a strange dance.

In truth there are Balinese who are forward looking, caring and engaged in projects focused on bettering the minds and welfare of their brethren. For example the late AA Made Jelantik, the late Ibu Gedong Oka, architect Popo Danes, poet Ketut Yuliarsa to name just a few. But these are largely Bainese who have been well educated and have been exposed to the outside world in deeper ways. It boils down to a higher standard of education and more universal values. And none of their activities were directly supported by adat.

Adat is obviously something which is important – a system by which the community is held together for acitivities for the common good. But it has to adapt and change in this century just as it has throughout the centuries past. Adat was never static: it is a myth to think that Balinese adat has been the same all this time. Its implementation requires more transparency, checks and balances. Yes change has to come from within, but it will come as a result of interaction with new ideas, fresh views. Adat has many things going for it but it must evolve simply because the environment in which it is is no longer – and will never again be – the same.

Rio Helmi, aka I Belog, has been stuck in Bali for decades and doesn’t seem to have any other place to go to.


Senja di persimpangan bundaran jalan arterial kawasan Kuta itu sedemikian ruwet sehingga mudah memahami kenapa julukan “Simpang-Siur” sudah lengket dari tahun ke tahun. Disini hampir setiap saat rame, dan sinar lampu stop-an merah berarti ‘jalan’ bagi anak-anak yg berbaju lusuh. Mereka menyusuri mobil-mobil mewah dengan tangan terulur, menunggu uluran kembali dari penumpang-penumpang yang berdiam diri dibelakang kaca jendela. Anak yang lahir di desa tandus di balik gunung nun jauh ke timur, bumi yang tidak punya kasih, dipaksa bercekeran di aspal. Mereka  memahami kota dari perspektif yang tak ternyana oleh para perencana tata kota.

Bandar yang turun tengah malam untuk mengumpul duit mereka pun tidak terlalu repot berkasih sayang. Jujur kata, dari sekian ribu pengemudi dan penumpang pun yang berhenti di lampu stop-an itu, sedikit  yang benar-benar memperhatikan anak-anak itu, apalagi memikirkan nasib mereka, dan mungkin lebih sedikit lagi yang bertanya “Bagaimana ini bisa terjadi?”. Toh anak-anak itu adalah rang terendah pada tangga urban baru di Bali yang semakin sesak diinjak-injak, perkotaan yang semakin mendesak manusianya untuk membela kepentingannya masing-masing.

Memang selama tiga dasawarsa terakhir Bali menjadi rebutan, antara orang Bali, antara pendatang dari pulau lainnya di Nusantara, antara para expat yang menikmati “Paradise”. Ironisnya lama-lama bukan “paradise” yang menonjol tapi “parasite”. Saya yakin bahwa pernyataan ini akan tidak enak didengar, terutama oleh penduduk yang mencintai pulau ini. Namun kalau kita telaah kata ‘parasit’ ia adalah bentuk kehidupan yang tidak mengenal “co-dependency” tapi hanya “dependency”. Bentuk kehidupan ini akan hinggap dimana ia bisa menghisap  zat-zat yang dibutuhkannya, tapi tidak membalas budi alam bentuk signifikan. Dalam bentuk ekstrimnya, ‘tuan rumah’nya sang parasit bahkan bisa terhisap kering habis, mati tercekik.

Pola pemikiran parasit tidak melihat langkah lebih jauh dari sekedar kebutuhan hari ini. Ketidakmampuan memandang ke depan serta tidak memahami kepentingan bersama berakibat fatal, dan sesungguhnya adalah pola biadab. Anak-anak yang dikorbankan demi keuntungan orang tua adalah gejala infeksi parasit yang paling parah. Ada juga perilaku kita yang tidak senyata itu tapi tetap juga tindakan yang saling merugikan – contoh sederhana menyerobot antre, tidak bisa mengalah sejenak di perempatan lalulintas, dan sebagainya yang akhirnya membuat kesemrawutan. Daerah urban seolah menjadi tambang emas liar.

Saya ragu mengatakan bahwa ini adalah sifat hakiki manusia Indonesia moderen, saya lebih cenderung berpikir ini terjadi karena kita telah mengabaikan langkah penting dalam perkembangan urban dan masih bisa dikoreksi. Dalam desakan luar biasa yang terjadi kini di Bali (menurut sensus 2010, ada wilayah di Denpasar yang kepadatan penduduknya melebihi sembilan ribu lima ratus jiwa per kilometer persegi) banyak yang tidak sengaja bahkan tidak sadar menjadi parasit. Pola-pola kemasyarakatan lama terbengkelai, pola baru tidak terbentuk. Inilah keluhan yang terdengar saat diskusi tentang urbanisasi Bali baru-baru ini yang diselenggarakan sehari setelah pembukaan pameran foto ‘Urbanities’ .

Dalam diskusi tersebut dua tokoh ‘opinion-maker’ Bali, yaitu wartawan kawakan Bali Wayan Juniartha (“Jun”) dan penulis kolom Obrolan Bale Banjar di harian Bali Post, Made Sudira (“Aridus”), menunjuk hilangnya tokoh-tokoh panutan lama, baik Hindu Bali, Muslim maupun yang lainnya, sebagai faktor yang turut memperparah ketegangan antar kelompok masyarakat yang kini terjadi.

Menurut Jun, dengan adanya perubahan tatanan sosial (kelas menengah baru dsb) serta masuknya elemen jurus agama  didikan luar (bagi Hindu dari India, bagi Muslim dari Pakistan dst) generasi muda telah melupakan kode-kode interaksi antar golongan, antar etnis, antar agama. Terlupakan sudah bagaimana kerajaan-kerajaan Bali mempunyai hubungan khusus dengan kaum pendatang. Di Karangasem, misalnya, kampung-kampung Muslim justru membentengi puri. Mereka bahkan ikut mengamankan dan menjaga kebersihan lingkungan pura tempat sembahyang orang Bali. Sebaliknya ongkos naik haji mereka ditanggung oleh raja. Di Denpasar kaum Bugis pun dulu punya perjanjian khusus dengan Puri Pemecutan.

Sudira menekankan kurangnya komunikasi dan pengertian tentang kepentingan antar masing-masing kelompok. Dulu pada zaman ORLA dia turut membentuk organisasi informal terdiri dari pemuda-pemuda dari berbagai golongan etnis maupun agama untuk membentengi ekses-ekses kekerasan yang terjadi pada pertengahan tahun 60an.

Sudira menunjuk bahwa kini situasi sudah beda, identitas orang Bali yang masih sangat  berakar pada pelaksanaan adat yang sangat memakan waktu hingga parameter kegiatan mereka sulit dicocokan dengan kondisi moderen. Kepentingan bersama semakin sulit ditemukan – namun ironisnya kebanyakan pihak pendatang baru berada di Bali justru karena bagi mereka kebudayaan setempat melahirkan suasana ekonomis yang menjadi ‘gula’ untuk ‘semut’.

Senada dengan itu seorang Ibu asli Bali yang lama merantau ke Jakarta, mengaku shock saat kembali bermukim disini, “semua sudah demikian garang, perilaku bahkan menjadi lebih keras ketimbang Jakarta, dan Bali seolah tinggal komoditas untuk dijual”. Bahkan Pino Confessa, seorang seniman teater kelahiran Itali  yang sudah puluhan tahun bermukim di Bali dan sekarang menjabat sebagai konsul Itali disini, berpendapat bahwa ini semua akibat mitos-mitos komersil dan TV yang telah menggantikan mitos-mitos lama “Masyarakat sekarang bengong dengan sinetron..”.

Di pihak lain, seorang pelukis pendatang dari Jawa yang tinggal di Kuta, Pandji, merasa bahwa sah-sah saja kalau pendatang yang sudah punya ‘watak urban’ dapat meraih kesempatan-kesempatan yang dilalailkan oleh penduduk setempat. Ia malah bertanya, kenapa para pendatang kelas ekonomi rendah yang bekerja keras mendukung ekonomi harus selalu dihasut, contohnya penggerebekan tengah malam yang dilakukan oleh pecalang dan sebagainya. Dengan membagi pengalaman-pengalaman langsung, masing-masing kelompok sempat saling membuka mata akan kegentingan situasi masing-masing.

Tentunya saat diskusi ada pertanyaan mengenai pembangunan fisik – seorang mahasiswi planologi berkomentar tentang daerah yang menjadi langganan banjir setelah pembangunan, ada juga yang menunjuk kurangnya lahan sebagai pemicu – observasi yang valid, namun tetap terjadi suatu konsensus bahwa interaksi sosial berbagai unsur masyarakat tak bisa diabaikan sebagai faktor penentu dalam perencanaan kota,  dan interaksi inilah yang paling menentukan masa depan daerah urban Bali. Keadaan Bali tidak bisa disamakan dengan perkembangan daerah atau negara lain dimana kesepakatan lebih mudah tercapai. Di Bali revolusi agragris, industrial, ekonomis dan teknologi terjadi serempak – tidak heran kalau terjadi pergesekan yg merugikan. Konsensus dari diskusi itu juga mempertegas bahwa tidak bisa mengharapkan pemecahan dari pemerintah, dari aturan baru, dari lembaga-lembaga.

Yang dapat saya simpulkan dari acara tukar-pikiran ini adalah bahwa masyarakat madani sekarang harus lahir dari diri kita sendiri, melihat bahwa tokoh-tokoh panutan yang kuat kini absen. Kini kita yang harus bisa mengolah jiwa dan raga menjadi jaringan komunikatif yang saling mendukung, yang saling membantu mencari jalan menghindari pola parasit – membentuk pola masyarakat madani bersama yang lintas etnis, agama, dan kelompok lainnya  tanpa mengancam identitas masing-masing.

Kini pola demikian tidak semata harapan abstrak. Kita memiliki berbagai kondisi yang mendukung, solusi yang positif semakin mudah di akses dan dibagi dengan bahasa yang lebih universal, apalagi dengan media internet. Sebagai contoh, baru-baru ini di India masyarakat madani berhasil memaksa reformasi pemerintah terhadap korupsi dalam tempo 4 hari. Bagi penduduk Bali, menjadi masyarakat madani adalah sesuatu yang dapat tercapai. Tinggal kemauan dan kecerdasan yang lahir dari ‘sharing’.

Rio Helmi / Bali 19 April 2011


We walk through garish corridors haphazardly hung with children’s paintings. By local standards it’s a big house with a big kitchen, and although it’s on the edge of whatever is left of Denpasar’s ricefields, there is no garden. Ibu Putu Etiartini introduces me to ‘her’ children.

One of the young girls has a freshly bandaged foot and is on crutches.Buoyed by the friendly atmosphere, I blurt out “Hey what happened to you?” – only to realize that her right foot is missing. In the matter of fact, practical way that Balinese can sometimes assume, Ibu Putu glosses over what I hope is my concealed mortification, explaining that the girl had to have her foot amputated. Apparently her foot, twisted at birth, had developed a infection from a cut she got as she hobbled through the streets of Kuta begging barefoot.  Gangrenous, it was left unattended.

In truth, all of these kids have been left unattended. On the streets in the urban sprawl that now engulfs Denpasar, Kuta, and Sanur, their Fagin-like minders appear a couple of times a night on shiny new motor bikes to collect the money from their grubby young charges. Parents get some of the cut but often stay out of the way, at home on the other side of the island. The children are left to their own devices. This smiling young girl who now has no right foot and has had several operations (and more to go) is one of the lucky ones – Ibu Putu found her and brought her under the care of the YKPA foundation which she founded for street children in 2005.

Ironically, despite the fact that the parents of these children so blatantly allow their children to be exploited, YKPA legally still has to convince them to give permission to the foundation so their children can get the care and education they never would receive otherwise. Even more ironic are the cases of two of their recent charges, who, because of having been taken off the street no longer provided an income for their unemployed parents – and as a result the parents revoked their permission to have them kept at YKPA.

Part of the issue is desperate poverty brought on by the aridity of the northeastern tip of the island. Another part is the cold-hearted mafia that has developed the system that takes advantage of the lack of education and effective government welfare nets – from the point of view of the parents it can look like the simplest solution. But overwhelmingly it is the willingness of the majority, perhaps too busy with dreams of new motorcycles or even perfect holidays, to simply ignore what is going on around them.

Poverty has also taken its toll in the villages in the Batur caldera. Pande Putu Setiawan has been exposed to the harsh realities of life here since his youth, through the work of his father, a paramedic who devoted nearly his entire life to providing basic health care to the impoverished villages in the Kintamani region. Prompted by his father’s example, Pande decided to set up the Komunitas Anak Alam.

With a primary focus on providing education to the children of these villages, the group of young volunteers Pande leads are dedicated to providing the kinds of opportunities that many of the children, especially girls, would never have even dreamed of. These volunteers, students and young budding professionals,  often dig deeply into their own pockets and happily sacrifice their own time. Though Kintamani is a major tourist destination promoted by, amongst others, the government, little evidence of the dividends filters into the villages of Songan and beyond.

Yet this is not all simply a case of a lack of modern sense of civic responsibility. Nor is it just the abject failure of the social services department to do something more meaningful than promise paltry sums which often enough don’t even get disbursed (the average sum per child per day promised to various orphanages is about Rp 3000, or 30 US cents). There is a collective shrug when the subject of the poverty-stricken in these areas is discussed – “these people have been begging for centuries, it’s their way” says popular local wisdom

Harsher still are the effects of personal shame. Social stigmatization, once set in, is a difficult stain to erase in a deeply conformist and communal society. Once one falls into the margin, it takes a lot to stand up and be counted amongst the smiling.

This is not something new which has sprouted within the ranks of the new arriviste bourgeoisie. Along with the many great qualities that have dazzled visitors to the island since the 18th century, there has always been something of a dark, fatalistic side to traditional Balinese culture. One brutal example of this deep sense of stigma is that which attaches itself to any family with handicapped children. Until as recently as a decade ago many of the island’s handicapped simply never left their compounds – perhaps loved at home, but hidden away from the public eye.

When the late President Gus Dur held a meeting of the handicapped ten years ago at the Grand Bali Beach, many who attended at his insistence had never left their homes before. Not a few had no formal schooling. “I was stunned and excited to meet so many others in a similar situation. A year later, missing them terribly, I decided to get in touch with them all.” says Putu  Suriati – a victim of polio who got her first wheelchair as an adult from American Judy Slatum.

That started the ball rolling. Soon, with the aid of an Australian confined to a wheelchair, Vern Cork, the group turned into a collective, and eventually they formed a legal foundation, Yayasan Senang Hati. Education and empowerment feature large on their agenda. Supported by donations and some of their own efforts at sales of arts and crafts, and a variety of activities, what really shines through is the sense of pulling themselves up by the bootstraps.. “Several of our graduates are now working in hotels on the islands” the organizers told me proudly.

Despite the evident good that YKPA, Kommunitas Anak Alam and YSH have done and are doing, even today government and Balinese society support for these two desperately needed programs remain sporadic at best. They mainly survive on donations from individuals.

Yet they remain inspired to keep at it. These stories have come out of the dark closet of society’s denial. Street children, impoverished villagers and the handicapped, denied of education in their own homes, have responded to schooling, education, special courses, and come out shining.  Behind each one of these stories is a fierce sense of personal dedication, a defiance of the so called “natural order of things”, and the awareness that there is nothing that can stop you if you have the will.

The real stigma lies with a society and a political system that cares little for its needy, with a government which pours its attention into an industry of luxury and leisure whilst ignoring the dirt poor and the unfortunate. As elements of our society, at least we can change that. As individuals we can be aware and can care. Helping those who already want to help themselves is the least we can do.

Bali’s Burden – Sharing the Load

These days when I look out my office window in the small town of Ubud, inanely voted ‘best city in Asia’ by Condé Nast, I can only see a kilometer long traffic jam. And even when I am not watching I hear engines rumbling and the sharp trill of the whistles of locally appointed, sarong-clad parking attendants frantically trying to extract order out of chaos.

This is my street, it has been for 25 years. But it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the quiet backstreet I moved to in the 1980s. This isn’t a rant about traffic. At least not just traffic. It’s beyond that. What has happened on this island is that it has gone past its carrying capacity in terms of infrastructure, environment, and socio-cultural balance. That’s longhand for “a mess”.

There are all kinds of startling examples. You know all those villas you see with beautiful rice field views? On average 750 hectares of rice fields a year are converted into urban sprawl since the 1980s, not a little of it going to tourism related projects. Tellingly, when I googled ‘rice field conversion in Bali’ up high on the list were sites selling villas.

Need more elbow room? Currently the island’s population stands at 3.9 million. In 1978 when I first moved to Ubud permanently the population was just a bit more than half of that – around 2.4 million. Since the 1960s more than 200,000 Balinese have ‘transmigrated’ under an official World Bank sponsored program, leaving their island to carve out a new existence on ‘outer’ islands. Ironically, now there are more than double that number of migrant workers have arrived in Bali from other islands to compete for jobs here.

The air has become polluted – there is a permanent ring of brown smog around the island that is plain to see when you arrive by air. Water is fast becoming a flash point – per room the average hotel uses around 300 liters of water daily, five times as much water as the average Balinese family of 4-5 people. Do the math’s: there are upward of 80,000 hotel rooms on the island today, four times the number recommended by a government survey done years ago.

Crime, not to be left behind, has also increased. In 2009 there were 10,453 cases reported, up 22% from the year before. Bearing in mind that in countries like Indonesia there are huge numbers of unreported crime, that is a pretty sobering statistic for so-called paradise. Recently in the area around Ubud, where my children grew up running wild in the rice fields, there have been two young children kidnapped.

I really didn’t want to get into so much detail, or turn this into a simple litany. But sometimes detail helps to visualize the change. So with these enormous changes and chaotic development why isn’t there more being done? Sure one can’t stop time and change, but surely one can minimize the damage? Is it really beyond our capacity to alleviate the situation?

In the 1990s, a group of friends and I started an environmental foundation. We were concerned about rubbish disposal as well as water pollution and overexploitation. A certain high ranking, national-level tourism official at the time grumbled at me to the effect that Bali didn’t belong to locals but to the tourism industry. As those were Suharto days there really wasn’t much else to do but swallow, though we did our best to stand up against what we considered outrageous projects.

What was already clear then was that Bali is an economic powerhouse, extremely lucrative to those who were well positioned. Would there ever be a “just king” entering to the rescue? Then came the heady early days of Reformasi in 1998 when Suharto first fell. Suddenly the catch word was “empowerment”. But since then we have fallen back into a similar pattern of apathy and pessimism.

A couple of years ago the current governor, Mangku Pastika, came into office with a slew of promises. One of them was vastly improved public transport to ease the traffic. Now, finally, we hear that in October or November the “SARBAGITA” (an acronym of Denpasar, Badung, Gianyar, Tabanan) bus system is to start trials – on three of the 17 planned routes. Of course I am ready to give it a chance, yet with motorcycle outlets still selling literally thousands of scooters a month I am not overly optimistic. Hopefully this ‘affordable, convenient and comfortable’ system doesn’t experience too many delays.

But let’s not imagine the whole situation in Bali depends on Mangku Pastika’s whim and will. Since ex-President Habibie’s rushed decentralization that was rammed through legislation in 1999, power shifted dramatically from governors down to the next echelon, the bupatis or ‘regents’. What was glossed over was the fact that overnight, throughout Indonesia, the demand for highly trained and educated government officials would go through the roof. Imagine that from having specialized staff manning specific sectors in some 29 provincial governments, suddenly we needed qualified staff to handle similar sectors in more than 500 kabupaten or regency government offices. Eleven years later we are still shorthanded.

Decentralization also meant less supervisory authority over decisions made. Kabupatens became fiefdoms. Ironically it became more desirable in some ways to be Bupati rather than higher ranking governor, and all manner of abuse popped up over the country. Bali was no exception, and nowadays nobody seems to care about strangling the goose that laid the golden egg.

Given the fact that half the court cases brought by President SBY’s government against corrupt officials have ended in acquittals, the prospects for that deterrent mechanism don’t look good.

What we need now is to wake up – we are inches away from hitting the wall. It will take not only inspired leadership and firm political will to push through initially unpopular measures and sacrifice, but also very professional management. There needs to be a real, working partnership between community and government re-instilling civic pride and responsibility. Neither on their own can manage this mess.