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And the Emperor Wore No Clothes

Bali Village Protesting Reclamation of Benoa Bay are Barred from Sharing their Concerns with the Indonesian President


A large billboard protesting a Presidential decree clearing the way for the reclamation of Benoa Bay has been erected again by local citizens on the side of Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai after being removed by officials just prior to a visit by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to open the Bali Arts Festival in June.

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The billboard put in pace by local residents living in Suwung Kauh, which borders a mangrove forest, reads, "President SBY, don't drown us, Bali rejects reclamation and Presidential Decision No. 51/2014."

Quoted by Bali Post, a community leader of Swung Kauh, Kadek Bobby Susila, said: "The area of Suwung Kauh touches directly with the shoreline. Several times during the JDP Project (Benoa Bay Toll Road) the seawaters rose. We are worried that if the reclamation takes place the volume of water will rise even further."

According to Bobby, the installation of the billboard was done on the initiative of local residents and represented their genuine concerns regarding the planned reclamation. "Earlier, they installed a billboard, but it was removed by officials with the reasons that SBY (the President) was coming to open the Bali Arts Festival. We were told that the sign would be returned and could be put back up after SBY left. But, in fact, the officials took the sign away to the police station," he complained.

Bali Post reports that the local residents felt intimidated by these developments. They said the sign expressed their legitimate concerns about the reclamation project and that many other billboards along the same highway had been installed by political parties and mass organizations (ormas) were left undisturbed. Bobby continued: "This represented the aspiration of the people and SBY should be able to see it. Why do officials suddenly decide to unilaterally remove this sign? We tried to protest. If it's a matter of permission, this is our village. Frankly, we feel intimidated by both government and law enforcement authorities. In fact, we are very upset about the impact of the reclamation."

During the anniversary (pioldalan) of the Pura Dalem Penataran Suwung Kauh water levels rose so high as to touch the foundations of the temple.

That incident has raised a fear that plans to dredge Benoa Bay, as part of the reclamation project, will result in even higher water levels. "What's more, Benoa Bay is the delta for five rivers in Bali. If it’s dredged, where will this water go? The people of Bali will suffer the consequences. This is the reason the local citizens reject reclamation plans. We hope the reclamation plan will be abandoned, so we erected a billboard rejecting the Presidential Decree. We must change the submissive mindset of the Balinese, just accepting all that is inflicted upon them. We must make a choice," explained Bobby.

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