Thursday, September 17, 2015

Killing tourism in BALI

In the wake of the first Bali bombing in 2002, and then again in 2005, many Balinese became resentful of outsiders. Non-Balinese Indonesians were quietly blamed for the drastic decline in tourism and the slow rebound since the acts of terrorism. Migrants seeking a better income in Bali meanwhile added to competition.

Despite strenuous efforts throughout the years to promote Bali, there has been only a slow increase in foreign tourist numbers, from 3.27 million in 2013 to 3.76 million last year. Attention is now shifting to promoting tourism in other areas.

Thus the Balinese, and everyone else, should welcome firm action against officers found extorting money from foreigners at one of our main gateways, Ngurah Rai International Airport. Balinese or otherwise, Indonesian officials are not known for the impeccability of their sins, despite a few “islands of integrity”.

Tourists passing through other airports in the country have also complained of extortion by immigration officers. Promoting tourism, from the beautiful Lake Toba in North Sumatra to the pristine beaches and waters of East Nusa Tenggara, will be fruitless as long as corruption continues. On Sunday, law enforcers in Bali said they had begun investigations into allegations of extortion by immigration officers at Denpasar’s revamped airport. The report filed, by a Taiwanese tourist, said that his group was told to pay 500 yuan (US$78.4) to get their passports stamped, and also that he was manhandled by officers. Zhang Tao also claimed he lost $2,200 in cash.

The investigation follows the naming of 12 police personnel as suspects for extorting money from a group of Australian tourists.

We have some hope from the new director general of immigration, Ronny F. Sompie, a former Bali Police chief. Like any other top official trying to spring-clean his institution, Ronny can expect considerable resistance to attempts to stop corruption, including demands for money from tourists — a habit so ingrained that the officers in question seemed unconcerned about the presence of CCTV cameras, footage from which corroborated Zhang’s allegations. Few would be surprised at this recklessness. What’s wrong, the officers might think, with asking for a handful of notes, compared with, for instance, the suspected “services” of more senior immigration officials providing a false passport for convicted tax officer Gayus Tambunan?

The report from Bali airport is a drop in the ocean of Ronny’s challenge to continue efforts to end graft within immigration offices. Many have praised today’s progress in the issuing of passports, with a new online application process aiding transparency. It takes two to tango, however, and like big-time corruptors, regular citizens used to having it the easy way still find ways to jump the queue. Ronny can prove his mettle by overcoming this “mutual symbiosis” factor, which sustains corruption everywhere, including in immigration. He has the opportunity to deal with findings that his department is among the worst units under the Law and Human Rights Ministry, as found in discreet inspections by the state’s Ombudsman in 2012. -.thejakartapost.

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