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"A Whiter Shade of Pale”

Last week I found myself wandering through a particularly green corner of Bali, the birds were singing and light breeze rustled the rice (“twitter twitter, rustle rustle”), it was an idyllic place that was good for the soul, for my soul that is. As I walked I came across a man sitting on a pile of rubble with his head in his hands.

The whimpering and incoherent mumbling combined with the intermittent but somewhat determined wringing of the hands suggested to me that this poor soul had a distinct absence of pleasure in his outlook on life.

I couldn't help but notice what high quality rubble this was with marble and granite set off with some rather splendid pieces of splintered teak contrasting nicely with broken green stone tiles.

“Hello, lovely day” I said cheerily.
The mumbling and whimpering ceased abruptly, he turned.
“Where do you think you're going” he shouted with an obvious hint of irritation that was about as subtle as OJ Simpson trying to seduce a nun. Obviously he has not been here long enough to absorb some of the peace and harmony this island has to offer I pondered.

“I'm going for a walk, lovely day isn't it?”
“Get off my land” he screamed. I couldn't help but notice he was one of those rare people whose voice can range over three full octaves.
“Are you a singer?” I queried.
“What?”
“A singer, you know, someone who sings. Oh never mind” I said detecting a fairly obvious lack of interest in my question.
“Your land?” I continued “are you sure?”
“Yes, my land! I bought it! It belongs to me, do you understand me?, it is mine, mine, mine!” (have I heard that line before somewhere?)
I calmed him and once the hysteria died down, he collapsed sobbing on the rubble pile draped over a rather nice carved stone devil's head, a shame the left side of it's face was missing.

“But this is Bali not Europe” I suggested, “the laws are a little different here.”
“What do you mean?” he mumbled.
“Put in its simplest terms foreigners cannot own land in Indonesia.”
“But that nice smiling man with the gold tooth at CV Dodgy Real Estate told me I have freehold title over this land.”
“I have a slight inclination to suggest that that is not the case,” I ventured delicately.
“What do you mean not the case?”

“I wouldn't want to bore you the detail but it all goes back to article 33 section 3 of the Indonesian constitution which states The land, waters and natural wealth contained within them are controlled by the State and shall be utilised to increase the prosperity of the People, in other words the land and seas of Indonesia are for the benefit of Indonesians.”
“But I have freehold title” he quivered through a rather floppy bottom lip.
“There is no freehold title in Indonesia” I explained “the nearest thing is 'Hak Milik' (Right of Ownership) and even under this title the government can take the land off the owner if they are not using it “for the good of the Indonesian people” or if the government needs it for something else. It can even be taken off them if they don't use it within 12 months of purchase.”

“But how can I own land?”
“You can't, it is all laid out very clearly in article 9 of the Agrarian Law Act of 1960 which says Only Indonesian citizens may have the fullest relation with the earth, water and air space, by 'fullest relation' I have a sneaky suspicion they mean ownership.”
“A sneaky suspicion, am I supposed to believe a sneaky suspicion?”
“Well article 21 is perhaps a little more emphatic Only an Indonesian citizen may have rights of ownership. So foreigners, and that includes any Indonesians holding non Indonesian citizenship (dual nationality is illegal for Indonesians), cannot own land in Indonesia.”

“But everywhere you see signs advertising freehold title.”
“True” I responded.
“True?” he challenged.
“Not true” I corrected.
“Make your mind up” he snorted
“True you see freehold tile advertised, not true that such a title, if there was one, is available to you.” I clarified.

He pondered a moment “What if someone gave land to me?”
“Not allowed I'm afraid, article 26 clause 2 says Each sale and purchase, exchange, gift, bequest by will and other acts which are meant to transfer the right of ownership directly or indirectly to a foreign national .... are not valid … and that all payments which have been received by the owner may not be reclaimed. Sounds pretty plain to me.”
He paled somewhat. I thought I would have bored him to death by now but something had caught his ear.
“Indirectly,” he said slowly “what does it mean by indirectly?” He sounded like a little boy down a well. Perhaps he was wishing I hadn't started.
“I'm not sure exactly” I said “but I don't think I'd want to discuss that in a court of law.”


“So all these people coming to Bali to buy property are buying it illegally?”
“Oh no, the Agrarian Law Act states a number of different types of title. One is called Hak Pakai (Right to Use) and here it is clearly stated that foreigners can lease land for 25 years and this period can be extended. This is the safest arrangement.”

“But I haven't leased it, I own this land.” he repeated.
“Is Your name on the land certificate?” I queried
“No” he feebled.
“Then whose name IS on the land certificate?” I said rather slowly and carefully.
He was starting to turn a little pale.
“Made” he breathed.
“Sorry” I prompted.
“My driver, Made” he spluttered.
“Made? Not many of those around in Bali.”
“He is my sponsor”
“Know him well do you?”
“Yes of course, he is my driver.”
“You know where he lives, who his family are, the temple he prays in......?”
“Well....... er ….... no not exactly.”
“So this is not your land?”
“Well no, but...” he was starting to regain his composure, “we have it all legally tied up you know.”
“Oh”
“Yes, a power of attorney, loan agreement, the lawyer even has the land certificate locked in his safe.”
“You might get a rude shock one day” I ventured.
“A rude shock, what do you mean?” he sounded taken aback, I sensed a creeping suspicion there was something else he might not be aware of.

“In several places” I continued “the Agrarian Law Act mentions the control of land ownership and I can't help wondering if an Indonesian court might one day consider your legal documents simply a ruse to get around the spirit of the law. They might decide that foreigners cannot own land but also cannot CONTROL the ownership of land. You may find yourself in the upper reaches of a rather brown river without an oar so to speak.”

He didn't look well, the palour had returned and he was turning a shade of green that reminded me of something you see in the bottom of the fish pond when the dog has not been very well.

My mind wandered from the real estate jungle to Bali's thriving mercenary health exploitation industry in which the price of a bed for a night is rapidly overtaking the value of the life in it. I decided it might be prudent to avoid a medical emergency so I thought it was time to move on. I did, however, have one burning question in my mind.

“Pray tell me, what is the beautiful pile of rather high quality debris you are draped over, are you a sculptor perchance?”

You know that feeling when the words have already left your mouth and you wish you could catch them before they land in someone's ear? Perhaps it was the pulsing veins on his neck but I immediately sensed that somewhere in this poor soul's cranium something had given way.

He started to gibber and twitch and his mouth issued forth strange and terrible sounds, I was sure I heard something like “eye em bee, eye em bee...........

Ah now that is a subject for another day, it was time to leave.

Phil Wilson

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

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