Saturday, April 17, 2010

Declare the Pennies on Your Eyes

Well, it's all go in the city that they (well, me at least) call The Big Durian. A huge billboard standing outside my office proudly proclaims, "Pajak Anda Membangun Jakarta" (Your taxes to build Jakarta) over a smiling, avuncular picture of Big Brother Fauzi Bowo, bristlingly handsome moustache lightly moussed down and Islamic peci tellingly lacking atop his regal crown, a symbolic gesture of value added piety gone missing in action. Taxation in Indonesia is Lucifer's domain you understand. Maybe he should have had some horns Photoshopped in.

Your taxes to build Jakarta ay? Well they are certainly building somebody’s Jakarta, however whether the great unwashed benefits from all of this construction is debatable. Does a private guitar shaped swimming pool and whirlpool bath lovingly sculpted into a tax official's back garden qualify as a public facility? Perhaps a few people should start knocking on their doors with towels and swimming trunks under their arms. Actually, scratch that, most people can't swim here can they? Maybe instead they could demand to have a go in their BMWs or to accompany them on a gentlemen's evening down to a top-class massage parlour.

In this context, the current, farcical bun fight (currant bun fight, geddit? Ho ho!...sorry) over corrupt tax officials is hardly surprising. I mean, if you run a huge campaign imploring the general public to start paying its taxes, then its surely inevitable that at some point they're going to want to know where the hell the money's gone. And just where has it gone? "He's got it", "No, he's got it", "You big fat liar! You had it!" etc etc ad infinitum.

According to my tax return form, my office paid about Rp.60 million in taxes on my behalf over the last financial year. Whether they actually did or not is anybody's guess in this country, however I believe my paymasters to be generally above board in this regard. Filling in the tax form itself however was something of a brain teaser and I can sympathise with Einstein when he once said of his tax returns, "This is too difficult for a mathematician, it takes a philosopher."

I certainly wouldn't be happy to learn that my contributions towards building a stronger civil infrastructure had instead been put towards chocolate martinis, luxury sedans and cheap tarts with expensive tastes in frocks. Alas though it would seem that this is where much of the building Jakarta money has gone. I mean I could be wrong but, to a first approximation at least, we would all appear to be living in one enormous shanty town built on a swamp which has been incongruously dotted with expensive shopping plazas and five-star hotels.

I'm sure that my tax Rupiah could be put to better use than this. Let's quickly survey the metropolitan wreckage and see if we can't come up with some more constructive ways of building up our hometown, with the goal of making it possible for tourists to visit the city without returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

1. Schools
Many Indonesian schools seem to be rather light on facilities. A single pencil between 150 kids who each get to have a ten minute go on it per week is generally the order of the day and would seem to indicate that less than the mandated 20% of the budget is being spent on education. Each school should have at least two pencils to go around in my view.

2. Hospitals
It's not just primitive superstition that drives people with broken legs into the arms of shamanic charlatans (or dukun as they're known in Indonesia) who then attempt to heal the fractures in question by holding their hands over the break and going all wobbly eyed whilst chanting incantations to the god Zeus. The simple fact of the matter is that they simply can't afford to be bolted back together at an institution that actually acknowledges the germ theory of disease.

3. Family Planning
If I had my tax money to spend anyway I wanted on building up Jakarta then I'd probably elect to buy a metric ton of Durex party hats to be dropped over the city's various districts from low-flying aircraft.

4. Public Execution of Motorcyclists Who Don't Put Their Bloody Lights on at Night
This could be first-rate public entertainment. The miscreants in question could be shot by firing squad up at Monas every Sunday afternoon followed by a Dangdhut concert and free ‘baso’ for all.

5. Transportation
There's clearly no real transportation solution for Jakarta using current technology so I would invest millions in teleportation research. Mind you, if such research ever bore fruit and the machines actually came online then I don't think that I'd necessarily have much faith in them being properly maintained here. It's one thing to get off the bus when it breaks down but quite another to have your internal organs teleported to Bekasi whilst the rest of you arrives in Kemang (actually, this may have already happened to some of my acquaintances).

6. Parks
I'd advocate selecting ten shopping malls at random and bulldozing them into the ground. The resulting parks could be seeded with hemp plants which could be used to...erm... make T-shirts or something.

7. Monuments
Jakarta is full of rather gaudy monuments, a testament to the late Sukarno's mounting megalomania. Perhaps some new ones could be fashioned that more accurately reflect the city's political and social zeitgeist. An enormous marble plinth topped with a huge bronze fist with its middle finger raised towards the heavens would be just the ticket.

8. Suicide Booths on Every Street Corner
You’ve heard the old saying that the only two inevitable things in life are death and taxes? Well, why not combine the two. I mean, Jakarta can really get you down sometimes.

So there you have it. That's my eight point budgetary plan for a brighter future and I'm sure that most of you would have no trouble coming up with a few suggestions of your own. As for the current four-way spat between the tax office, the police, the courts and the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) then I fully expect the whole depressing circus to rumble on indefinitely. Looking on the bright side though, this is undoubtedly an essential step on the way towards civilising Indonesia. You can't take your filthy lucre with you when you die after all. Mind you, taxation proves that you can't leave it behind either.