Reporting on TBI Bekasi- Part 1 of 3 (An Interview)

This interview is with former TBI Kelapa Gading school manager “SW”, who managed the school from late 2009 to early 2012. As “SW” is the blogger who has dealt exclusively with the TBI Bekasi teachers, former manager “CL” has interviewed him this time around. It should provide some useful background into the history of the TBI Bekasi scandal.

When did former teachers from TBI Bekasi teachers start contacting you with their stories?

I think it was in April 2012, about a month or so after we started the original blog.

What was the initial message that was sent to you?

I don’t remember it exactly, of course, but the writer asked if I had any intentions of reporting on TBI Bekasi. By that point we had already said some very negative things about Head Office. They intimidated that TBI Bekasi might have been even worse than what we had experienced.

What was your response?

I wasn’t sure if they were real or a hoax. You see by that point the TBI goons had already started their games. Colm O’Mahoney, a former teacher from TBI Kuningan, had been caught pretending to be a female student called “Tilly Puspita”. We knew it was him because his avatar linked to Colm’s own WordPress blog, which is about being a very short Irishman in an Asian megacity- or something droll along those lines anyway. His ID was “Napolean Complex”, which is only too apt, actually. We had also had Luke Preece pretending to be a female teacher called Michelle (he blew his cover by using Luke Preece’s own Head Of Franchise email address when he posted the comment). That was just the start of the fake IDs. So for all I knew at first, this was another hoax. So I was quite suspicious at first.

How did you proceed?

Most of the comments from the goons use fake email addresses. They soon worked out that you could post a comment by adding a fake email address and acted accordingly. But when I emailed this address, the address was real and the person got back to me.

Who was this person?

We need to be especially careful when dealing with the names of TBI Bekasi teachers. They have alleged that Binsar Simorangkir, the school manager and part-owner, is heavily tied in with Batak premans (gangsters) in Bekasi and is a dangerous and violent man. He allegedly assaulted a female teacher, leaving her with bruises on her body. Motorbikes of teachers who worked there had their tires slashed after they defied Binsar. Lying, cons and death threats have also been part of the unique mix at that school. Teachers are justifiably anxious about making their identities known- especially those who still live in Indonesia. But I can say he was a former teacher who had worked for 3 months for Binsar and had ended up making no money at all out of his time with them, because he ended up having to pay a Rp 18.000.000 fine to Immigration, as Binsar had lied to him that he was organizing a work visa, which he wasn’t.

What did you make of the allegations?

I was very surprised. I had met Binsar a few times at TBI conferences and I had no inkling he was anything other than a polite, well-mannered man who was failing badly as a school manager.

Why did you say he was failing?

When I had met him at a TBI conference, I had talked to him a little. After all, we were both managing TBI franchise schools and sometimes we had students who lived somewhere between Kelapa Gading and Bekasi who shifted from one school to other. I am ashamed to say, I even recommended a few students try TBI Bekasi who lived too far from Kelapa Gading. Anyway, at the conference he told me that Bekasi was a very poor city, and it was hard to make any money there. He said it only had 150 students, which is very bad even for a TBI franchise school.

Did you believe what he told you at the time?

Sure. I tend to believe what people tell me unless I have reason to suspect they are lying. I thought he was probably blaming the low student numbers on the school’s location, but I certainly didn’t suspect he was massively under-reporting student numbers. It is interesting and very telling, in retrospect, that Binsar was lying straight to my face from the very first time I spoke to him. He is clearly a cool and practiced liar and the lies just roll smoothly off his tongue.

When did you become convinced that the allegations being made against Binsar were real?

In a company such as TBI whose real product is bullshit and deception- not educational services- you have to adopt a distrustful approach to all information. Otherwise, you will end up repeating lies that one of the TBI honchos invented. My basic approach has been to try and get multiple sources or pieces of evidence before reporting on anything. Fortunately, there was another former TBI Bekasi teacher who was also willing to share his story. After corresponding with both of them and comparing their stories, I saw a very distinct pattern emerge. But I didn’t end there either. I also rang Indonesia on Skype and spoke to one of the witnesses in depth. His story had the ring of truth to me. The main reason they convinced me was because of the way their testimonies were so similar and so consistent. Binsar had conned them both using the exact same methods- this was corroborating evidence. It was a complete contrast with dealing with Luke, Colm and Matthew France. Every time they sent a message or wrote something, the story kept changing. For example, they said originally that Cameron had resigned but later they changed the story for new teachers that he had been fired- presumably him being fired made him look worse, so they changed to that story. The TBI Bekasi teachers don’t have this tendency to change their stories which TBI does.

What do you say to TBI’s claims that these people do not even exist? What do you say to the claims that you invented them as part of a psychotic vendetta against TBI?

One wonders who believes this crap. I suspect no one, as they can’t recruit new teachers with the right qualifications. Clearly people have read this blog and been spooked by the weirdness of what TBI is like. They believe it enough to stay clear, which says a lot. Anyway, later on 3 or 4 more teachers from TBI Bekasi came forward. One of them wrote a 5000 word report which described the inner workings of the school in detail, mentioning the name of Binsar’s wife and the name of the class in which Binsar places his own son as a spy. Most of all, one of the teachers forwarded me a 2012 financial statement from the school which Binsar had left lying on the scrap paper heap. This is compelling evidence that these people are real. Oddly enough, when the latest TBI Bekasi witness came forward, the misinformation agents stopped claiming we had made these people up. Instead, they started admitting they were real but said that the witness should not be believed anyway as she had once been fired from EF Gunung Sahari by a crony of Luke’s. Their inability to keep their story straight is their greatest weakness in this debate in my opinion. They have proven themselves to be liars by contradicting themselves so often. They are very sloppy in their methods.

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