May 2024

Will it soon be back to bribery as usual?

Today an everyday story of bribery and corruption from the Land of Smells.

In the Land of Smells, the usual way property developers go about their business is as follows:

Step 1 – Buy some land – often this involves forcing families who have lived there for generations (but may not have the required paperwork proving ownership of the land) out of their homes and quickly bulldozing those homes

Step 2 – Submit planning application – put in a planning application for a hotel, office building or condo complex featuring a small building that the developer knows will be approved

Step 3 – Build a monster – put up a building that is much larger and much higher than the one featured in the original planning application

Step 4 – Bribe local officials – when the building (which is much larger than the one in the original planning application) is completed, give a huge bribe to local officials so that they grant the necessary approval for the building to be brought into use.

That’s the way things have always been done. And it seemed to work pretty well – for developers and easily bribable officials. Not so good though for people who lost their homes or who found themselves living next to some monstrosity.

But there was a military takeover a couple of years ago and that changed things. Government officials are now a little bit more careful about being seen to enrich themselves with blatant bribes. And approving say a 40-storey block of condos or hotel of office building when only a 30-storey building was included in the planning application might, in the current climate, cause a few questions to be asked.

You could see the result of this new attitude of caution towards blatant corruption just near where I was staying

Case 1 – The hotel – Across the road was a new 13-storey hotel. It looks odd, because the first 9 storeys are built in one design and then it seems as if, as an afterthought, another 4 storeys have been plonked on top. The developer had approval for just a 7-storey building, but probably expected a healthy bribe would ensure the final 13-storey building would be approved. Moreover, the building is much larger and closer to the road than the original plan. But then came the military coup and the customary bribes seem to have been refused. The result – the developer has been told to either demolish the whole building or else move one wall of the building five metres further away from the road and to knock off the top 6 storeys. Moreover, just to make sure he complies, an army demolition squad has smashed huge holes in four floors of the wall facing the road to make sure the building is unusable:

boutique hotel

The developer reportedly has another 10 buildings (mostly hotels) in the area and all are also reportedly in flagrant breach of planning rules. Rumours are that some of them may also have to come down. Ooops!

Case 2 – The condos – This is a huge 53-storey condo development down by the main pier. It’s reportedly a fair bit higher and closer to the sea than the building proposed in the original planning application and than the planning regulations allow – any building that tall has to be more than 100 metres from the sea:

bali hai condo

Again, because of the new more cautious attitude to flagrant corruption, the usual bribes don’t appear to have done the trick and building work has been stopped for over a year while the developers and the (more cautious) local officials try to find a solution to this rather large problem that doesn’t look too much like blatant corruption.

The result – in both cases, there appears to be a stalemate between the developers and the authorities. I suspect that the developers’ and the planning officials’ cunning plan is to hang on till the military government passes control of the Land of Smells back to an elected civilian government. The developers and planning officials probably hope that, with the return of utterly corrupt politicians to power, it will be back to business (sorry, I meant ‘bribery’) as usual.

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