Yeah, I know. My heading should be 'Location, Location', because it's supposedly everything.
However, last Thursday, at a meeting in the very desirable pad occupied by H.E. Martin Hatfull, Our Man in Jakarta, the message was as in my title.
LOCATE is a computer data base in London which has been set up by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office in order to trace British citizens and (possibly) others entitled to the protection of the UK government. However, it is a voluntary scheme: Brits have to opt in. There was little discussion of transient visitors such as tourists and business folk on short-term visas. They can obviously register whilst still back in Blighty. However, the British Consulate here in Jakarta (with a sub-consulate in Bali) is anxious that Brits here use the service, and that was the focus of our Thursday morning meeting.
I was there as a local warden, one of a network of generally long-term residents who can be called upon in the event of a local emergency, of which there have been a few - such as the Bali and Jakarta bombs and the earthquakes in Sumatra and Java. Thankfully, my services have yet to be called upon, even though the recent hotel bombs were in the area adjacent to 'mine'.
I certainly had an interesting time being a Brit again and found all the consulate and embassy staff including H.E. and his wife to be very open to our views and pleasant to chat with. Living and working at street level in Jakarta, I am immersed in Indonesian life, yet I was happy to switch masks, to proudly proclaim my status as a Charlton supporter ~ thus demonstrating my true allegiance, 'Er Indoors notwithstanding.
However, and there's always this caveat, I do wonder how much in touch with local 'reality' H.M.'s government is.
For example, the consulate's duty officer is some unknown body in London who cuts out 'frivolous' enquiries, thus allowing the local staff some off-duty time rather than being on call 24/7. However, it is primarily a cost-saving measure. Brit's here may not have realised that our consulates are funded from our passport fees - currently £60 for a slim line 40 page version - and that the consulate is only open during working hours. Much as local banks are in fact.
Naturally, all embassies are the 'face' of the governments of their respective countries, promoting trade objectives and political alliances. I do wonder, however, why 'face' should take precedence over local objectives.
For example, we were told that it was felt that the Embassy did not react appropriately in the aftermath of the Bali bombs in 2002. I recall a meeting with the then-ambassador, the much-loved Richard Gozney, the day after he returned from the site. I don't think I've ever seen such a distressed visage, such a face haunted by what he had witnessed.
Again, criticisms were levied at the Embassy by their 'performance' during the 'week of living vicariously' in May '98 (see archives), yet I found that they offered sound advice. This was before the dawning of the age of internet here, one we're still stuck in seeing that in the past few days I have been unable to download more than 200 kbs at a time before losing the connection!
I have since got to know one of the volunteers at the Embassy back in May '98 very well, and I asked him later on Thursday if he had registered. Unlike me, he has long had supposed broadband, yet he found that the centralised LOCATE website gave him the runaraound.
And therein lies the problem with LOCATE. I failed to reregister 'Er Indoors or Our Kid as I couldn't stay online long enough. Others at the meeting echoed my comments; some wondered why our registration here was characterised as a 'trip', something I haven't been on since my hippie days way back when.
Having once had some forty or more folk registered in my warden's area, there are now just nine including me (but not my family). Two major reasons for everyone's diminishing returns, and I doubt that there are many fewer Brits here. One is that the UK is now one of the most surveilled countries in the world - yet still not immune from terrorist attacks - and there is a distrust of a country which is regularly in the news for the loss of databanks of supposedly private information..
Secondly, the LOCATE website is bloody awful. I can think of a good dozen Brits who have not reregistered because they can't stay online long enough and ~ well, what's the point? We all have our networks, be they through work, residence or online, and communication with loved ones operates free from governments. As much as I applaud the efforts of our consular staff, nice folk all, as long as they are hidebound by their bureaucratic strictures which appear to take little account of local conditions, then their well-intentioned labours as our 'guardian angels' are doomed to relative failure.
Until LOCATE was set up, we registered locally in a relatively simple process. The consular staff certainly had a broader perspective of the British presence here. Now that costs are paramount, the 'service' does not - cannot - meet its objectives, so another approach is needed.
We made various suggestions, primarily about using networks based on the mutuality of our local interests rather than those of faceless and distant bureaucrats. So you can expect to see a consulate stall at next year's Highland Gathering, tentatively scheduled for May, and Marie-Claire Joyce, the current Consul said that she would be prepared to attend other gatherings of Brits. There are far more Brits here than the five hundred currently registered and most of us are prepared to do our bit.
It must also be born in mind that we live multicutural lives. In other words, if push comes to shove, which I doubt, then nationality is not that important in Jakartass Towers. I'd even help my Irish friends.
And a final note: H.E. Martin Hatfull told me that he wished that the regularly updated Travel Advisory for Indonesia opened with a positive paragraph, one pointing out that one reason that so many of us live here is because it is a much safer and friendlier country than the media would have you believe.
Why else are we here? ......................... This posting has been lengthily delayed thanks to power cuts and the inability of any internet provider here to - erm - provide. As for registering with LOCATE, if in Jakarta, there is a dedicated computer in the Consulate available during their office hours. And if in Bali, there will be one some time next year when refurbishing is complete.