Expat Resort Manager Sparks Row With Politicians

On March 9–10, officials from the Mentawai Islands chapter of the National Democratic (Nasdem) Party held a working meeting on Simakakang Island. Nasdem is the party of media baron Surya Paloh, who owns Metro TV.

On March 11, a group of 11 of the Nasdem officials, including members of the Mentawai Regional Legislative Assembly (DPRD) and the West Sumatra Provincial Legislative Assembly, decided to take a pleasure cruise. When their vessel, the Mego, attempted to dock at the island’s Aloita Resort, an argument started with the resort manager Fabrizio Belliere (49).

Mr. Belliere denied them permission to land on the grounds that their vessel was too large for the small floating dock and because the pier was at that time under repair, so there were loose boards and exposed nails. Also, the resort’s own boat was already docked there, and its deck was still wet from being newly repainted. Belliere advised the officials to take another route.

Part of the altercation was filmed by one of the officials and then uploaded to YouTube, where it went viral. At one point, one of the officials mistakenly assumes a woman with Belliere is his wife. The man in the dark shirt and sunglasses in the video is Malkan Amin, chairman of the Regional Leadership Council of Nasdem’s West Sumatra chapter. He is a veteran politician and construction businessman, originally from South Sulawesi. For a long time, he was a member of Golkar Party and served in the House of Representatives, but he resigned in 2013 to join Nasdem.

The deputy chairman of the Mentawai DPRD, Nikanor Saguruk, said he requested permission for the group to walk around the resort for two hours, saying they would buy coconut drinks and food from the resort, but they were rebuffed.

On social media, some netizens demanded Belliere be deported, but many others ridiculed the local politicians for their emotional outburst and lack of dignity.

Immigration Check
Nikanor urged the Mentawai Islands government to consider revoking the foreign manager’s permit, saying it was not the first time the resort had barred local officials from entering. He also said police would investigate the foreigner’s residency documents.

He said a manager must be friendly to anyone who wants to visit. “[Belliere] just said we should not disembark, that there were lots of nails. From what I saw, the renovation was not too visible,” he said.

A West Sumatra legislator reported the matter to the Immigration Office in the provincial capital, Padang, demanding Belliere’s visa be checked. Immigration official Jejen Zaenuddin said the Italian’s work permit is valid until August 31, 2018, so the office cannot detain him for visa violations.

West Sumatra’s deputy governor Nasrul Abit was circumspect, saying the incident was just a misunderstanding and he had already received an explanation from the local regent and the head of the Tourism Office. He cautioned that such incidents could harm local tourism. He said parties wishing to visit Mentawai’s resorts should in future coordinate with the local Tourism Office, which would put them in touch with managers to avoid misunderstandings. He also said the Tourism Office would gather all resort operators for training.

The Mentawai Islands government said it would check the legality of all resorts, their staff, and the visas of visitors. Administration secretary Syaiful Jannah said the inspections would quell public suspicions, and provide tourists with a sense of comfort and security.

All Apologies
Belliere held a press conference on 15 March to apologise for the “misunderstanding and miscommunication”. He said there was no “ban” or “expulsion” as had been reported.

He said he informed the officials their boat could not use the pier because it was under repair, as he wanted to avoid any accidents. He maintained he invited the group to visit and enter through a shore access point.

The Italian requested the issue be considered closed so he can resume his efforts to contribute positively to the people and government of Mentawai. His legal adviser, Aim Zein, said the matter was being resolved with the local government and there would be no repeat incidents. Some reports said Belliere holds a 30-year lease for Aloita Resort and has been there for three years. He could not be reached for confirmation.

West Sumatra legislator Risnaldi said he accepted the apology but the issue must be investigated thoroughly and resolved in line with the law. He cast doubt on Belliere’s clarification. “I think he is lying,” he said. “The video clearly shows he can speak Indonesian, so I do not think there was any oversight of communication. He expelled us.”

DPR Demands Action
House of Representatives speaker Bambang Soesatyo said he deeply regretted the incident. He called on the government to evaluate existing regulations on the management of islands by foreigners. He said the Home Affairs Ministry and the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry should consider tighter supervision for building permits, island ownership and the naming of islands. He said 34 islands in Indonesia are presently managed by foreigners.

Rules and guidelines on island management should be prepared, he added, to reinforce certain limits and prevent absolute foreign management of small islands. Under a 2016 regulation issued by the Minister of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning, investors can only manage a maximum of ??70% of an island, while the remaining 30% belongs to the state and is managed by the government.

Sukiman, a member of the national parliament’s Border Areas Control Team, said foreigners cannot be allowed to control Indonesian islands. “This is a form of treason against the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia and the parties involved must be investigated thoroughly.”

The Regent of Mentawai Islands, Yudas Sibaggalet, on March 18 said local revenue from the tourism sector last year reached Rp7.3 billion (US$530,770), not including Rp4 billion in land and building tax contributed by resorts. About 10,500 foreigners visited Mentawai in 2017, most of them from Australia, the US, Brazil, Japan and Spain. Those wishing to surf are charged a fee of Rp1 million for 15 days.

Yudas said most of the islands’ 23 resorts are managed by expatriates through foreign investment companies, providing economic benefits to locals. He said about 90% of staff at the resorts are Mentawai people and there are plans to develop a special economic zone to attract more business.

Guests
Aloita Resort has a string of five-star reviews on TripAdvisor, full of praise for the resort’s friendly management and staff. The only negative comment among the reviews is that there can be “a lot of garbage in the water, especially plastic” after heavy rain.

Non-Indonesians should always remember they are only guests in Indonesia and must therefore respect local rules and customs. Showing disrespect to officialdom is never a good idea.

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Kenneth Yeung is a Jakarta-based editor.