In a surprise announcement from President Megawati Soekarnoputri, a major U.N. Conference scheduled for Jakarta in late May has suddenly been shifted to Bali. The Fourth Preparatory Committee Meeting for Earth Summit on Sustainable Development, scheduled for May 27 through 07 June, and expected to draw Environmental Ministers from over 150 countries and 6,000 participants from around the world, was suddenly shifted by the Government from Jakarta to Bali.
While the initial reaction of Bali's tourism community is one of unbridled jubilation at the thought of full to capacity hotels and ringing cash registers across the island, we suggest that an air of thoughtful concern and trepidation may, in fact, be a more appropriate response to this sudden development.
The harsh reality may be that the decision to move this important conference leading up to the September Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, has less to do with Bali's undeniable charm as a conference destination and more to do with an uncertain security situation for a major conference in Jakarta.
A Matter of Carrying Capacity
It will be sadly ironic if an environmental conference becomes an unintentional case study on Bali's inadequate carrying capacity for an event of this magnitude.
Bali's largest conference venue holds a maximum 2,500 people, a number far short of the estimated 6,000 people who will attend the plenary sessions. To deal with this limitation, the Government is reportedly planning to spread conference and entertainment venues across several hotels using modern broadcast technologies. While this is a reasonable solution given the size limitations of local facilities, it will prove problematic to delegates who will question traveling half-way round the world to network with each other on a single island via television technology.
Without discounting the skills and expertise of the Country's security and intelligence services, such a sudden and late decision must place extraordinary pressures on those entrusted to maintain the peace at the coming conference. In this post 9-11 world, security preparations are a matter of fundamental importance as threats have increased exponentially in the face of heretofore-unimaginable threats.
Clearly, there are forces afoot in the world today that would love to disrupt such an important conference. That, along the way, they managed to embarrass Ibu Megawati's Governemnt would, for them, be seen as an added bonus. Another more benign, but equally concerning, threat to the coming conference comes from the internationally organized political activists who see such events as an opportunity to take to the streets in front of the world's press. Are our security foces equipped, both physically and psychologically, to deal for the first time with international protestors, well practiced in street theatre and provocation?
Hopefully, militant protestors will steer clear of the Bali conference in late May. Should they come, however, we pray such demonstrators will not seek to profit from Indonesia's inexperience in dealing with “international street politics.” We also pray they will not tragically miscalculate the ferocity of Bali's traditional community-based civilian defense forces who quite literally "pull no punches" in maintaining order in their neighborhoods.
Again, we’re sure that the security teams have plans in hand for the coming conference, taking into account both the local and international dynamics of staging such an event in Bali.
Bali's long standing peace may render us unaccustomed to the public demonstrations that accompany such events. Equally, outside agitators may be shocked by the potential response of a traditional community with a reputation for jealously guarding their domestic peace at all costs.
Time Will Tell
Please do not misinterpret our concern on the coming conference in late May. As professional conference operators, the founder of the Bali MICE Initiative and publishers of Bali's first comprehensive conference guide - we are among the first to rejoice at any development that advances the island's reputation as a major conference destination. Accordingly, nothing would please us more than, after the coming event has passed, to be proven unnecessarily worrisome about Bali's ability to both physically and emotionally handle the challenges posed by the meeting in late May.
It is our firm hope that the May conference is an unprecedented success. Still, none of the organizers should underestimate the size and complexity of the challenges that have been thrust upon the island with so little advance notice.
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