Do I hear a voice?
Definitely a voice.
“Up 'ere on zee roof.”
I see him, a man is sitting on a roof 100 yards away down a rough road. There is a barrier across the road and a satpam dozing in his kennel.
“Zee rope“ the roof sitting man shouts.
“Rope?” I look around. “What rope?” I shout back.
“Zee dog, eet 'as zee rope.”
“Zee leetle dog 'as zee rope.”
Then I notice a little fluffy dog is sitting at my feet wagging it's tail and with a rope in it's mouth.
“Tie zee rope to zee tree.”
“Zee rope, tie it to zee tree.”
I take the rope from the dog's mouth and tie it to a nearby tree. The dog runs off.
The shouting man climbs down off the roof and disappears into the house. He soon returns with the other end of the rope which he pulls tight and ties to the water tank stand.
He puts on a pair of shoes and picks up a long pole, the European flag still fluttering at the end.
He steps onto the roof parapet and puts one foot up onto the rope then, gingerly (he has red hair), he lifts his other foot and carefully places it in front of the other on the rope. He hesitates, wobbling like a drunken sailor in a force ten gale, until eventually, using the flag pole, he gains his balance. Slowly at first he starts to shuffle along the rope warily putting one foot in front of the other. I don't want to watch. Several times the wobbles take over and he nearly falls off but each time he manages to recover to resume his aerial perambulation.
Twenty nerve wracking minutes later he reaches my end of the rope. He climbs down to the ground, falls to his knees, a panting sweaty mess, and kisses the ground.
“Mind the dog poo” I advise, “there's quite a bit of it around here.”
He getss to his feet. I daren't look to see what he is spitting out of his mouth.
“Zank you” he says breathlesly.
We retire to a nearby coffee shop, I buy him a cup of coffee and some cake. He grabs a piece and devours it ravenously and starts to tell me his story. It is a bit hit and miss, his english is not good but to save you the strain of following his accent I have roughly translated it as follows:
“I have a little problem with the access to my house” he began.
“So I see.” (Little? I thought considering skilful acrobatics I had just witnessed.)
He had bought the land, 6 are, from a very nice friendly gentleman who had had a large piece of land in an area of paddy fields, had subdivided it and was selling it off.
“Did you get a due diligence done?” I ask.
“Oh yes, he said “the friendly gentleman had a good notaris who went through all the ownership documents, the land zoning, everything. The land has been converted from Hak Adat (traditional ownership) to Hak Pakai (leasehold title). I have seen the land certificate. He told me that everything was fine.”
“You used his notaris?” I asked.
“Yes” he said, “the nice man insisted I use his notaris.”
“I leased the land and started building a house, months went by but then one day, when the house was nearly finished, I noticed that a barrier had been built at the entrance to the road. I thought this a little odd so I asked the friendly gentleman why the barrier was there. He explained that the road was, in fact, a private road but not to worry he had an agreement signed by the owner which allowed access.”
“Yes, the nice gentleman gave me a copy of a properly notarised document giving right of access to the land. Here it is” he said.
I looked at the document. It looked official enough but some things just didn't seem right.
“But this looks like an agreement between the gentleman that sold you the land and the owner of the road.” I queried.
“That's true” he said.
“This means that at any time either of these two parties can cancel the agreement and you will be in the brown sticky stuff.”
“So I found out” he said dolefully.
“More importantly it does not allow for the agreement to be passed on to others.”
“Yes” he said in a faint voice.
“This means that if anyone buys the land, the right of access does not pass on with the land.”
“This I also found out.” he continued. “One day a satpam appeared at the barrier. He told me the land was private and I had no right of access. But I have an agreement I told him. He told me he didn't know about any agreement.”
My tight rope walking friend hesitated to stuff another piece of fruit cake in his mouth.
“It gets worse” he said.
“I decided to take some proper legal advice” he continued spitting crumbs across the table. “I found my own notaris and asked lots of questions. The due diligence process had not uncovered the problem with access. It turned out that the access agreement my nice gentleman friend had made was in fact false, a fake, a forgery. There was no access agreement at all.”
“My nice gentleman friend and the road owning neighbour obviously were suffering a slight reluctance in their expression of love and respect for each other. They were making it a tad difficult for me. Fortunately for me the owner miscalculated, he thought I couldn't get in and out but he didn't know that I had spent some time in a circus.”
“It sounds like you're in one now” I ventured.
“It is a little difficult” he agreed. “Thursdays are worst, that's the day I go to the pub, have you ever tried walking a tightrope in the dark with a belly full of beer?”
“You are not alone” I informed him.
His eyes lit up.
“There are other tight rope walkers on the island?” he said eagerly.
“No I was referring to the right of access to land.”
“Oh” he said clearly disappointed.
“It is an ongoing problem with the value of land increasing dramatically and with the nature of how people understand land ownership changing.
The old notion, that has existed since Adam was a lad, was that people were simply the custodians of land that would be handed on to future generations. With this understanding it was never questioned that people should be able to walk freely over each other's land to get access to their part. Traditionally land here is often broken into many small plots with no official designated access. Right of access was not an issue.
This generally agreed approach is being replaced by the notion that that bit is yours and this bit is mine, I don't step on yours so why should you step on mine.”
“But that bit is mine” he countered.
“Exactly, and the bit in between, unfortunately is - someone else's.” I said noting the discomfort in being reminded of his predicament.
“This new notion has created a whole new concept that wasn't a consideration before - right of access. This changing attitude to the ownership of land is, in fact, something that we foreigners have brought here.” I suggested “Unfortunately it seems that we have also brought a virulent disease with us that has spread like wildfire and is fuelling the land ownership problem.”
“A disease? Is it serious?”
“Very serious, it is a disease that is damaging our whole way of life, it is afflicting entire continents.”
“But what is it? How do we get it?”
“It is believed to enter the body through the eyeballs and ears, particularly when watching TV adverts and lifestyle programmes. It lodges in the brain and produces obsessive behaviour, it suppresses emotions and sufferers lose their ability to tell right from wrong, morality and integrity are the first things to go.”
“Can't people get medical help?”
“Well now there is a bit of a problem, unfortunately it appears that many of the very people who are supposed to look after the sick are some of the very worst afflicted by the disease.”
“But what is this terrible disease?'
“It is called MA.”
“MA? What on earth is that?”
“MA stands for Money Addiction which leads to a debilitating condition known as greed.”
“Isn't there anything we can do?”
“Avoid people with currency signs in their eyes, that make you an offer you simply can't refuse or that go 'BING' when they blink.”
“Thanks a lot. It doesn't help me with my situation does it?” he said mournfully bringing us quickly back to his current poke (as in - a pig in a .....).
“Well no not really. It is a lesson to take great care and make sure you have properly documented full legal access to your land when you buy or lease property and to make sure that the right of access is fully transferrable should you wish to sell it later. If the road to your property is public road you have no problem.”
“But the road outside my land is public road.”
“Oh, so why the aerial display?”
“Well you see” he said sheepishly, “the bit of public road outside my house is not connected to any other bit of public road!”
“One of those interesting little quirks of living here” I suggested.
“So how do I get out of this one?” he said a distinct note of resignation in his voice.
“Unfortunately I suspect you will have to go with the natural laws of the land, crossing palms with a mint flavoured product may well be the only way out.”
“Oh dear, I am a little thin in the currency portion of my asset base” he said dejectedly.
He picked up a last piece of cake and stuffed it in his mouth.
“I suppose I had better go home, I'll eat the dog for tea.
Now where's my flagpole?”
This story contains some fact but with obvious changes to protect the guilty, it is up to you to decide which is fact and which is fiction. For example the story of the tight rope walking man is, of course, quite normal and something we might see every day while the part about nice friendly people selling land with fake access documents is clearly total fiction and, as we all know, could never happen here in paradise.