The TBI Mafia: A Gradual Unmasking (Part 2 of 6)

In this part of the interview we investigate the chronology of events and try and determine how and when the interviewee (a former manager of TBI Kuningan) became aware that something was very wrong within TBI.

Can you describe the process by which you became aware that TBI was riddled with corruption?

It happened gradually over a period of years. I am still finding out new things now. For example, I didn’t even know about TBI Bekasi until last year. There are a lot of skeletons in their cupboard, and they have been cleverly hidden for a long time. It was a step-by-step process learning what was really going on.

Was Luke Preece the first person you “saw through”?

He was the last. He spent a lot of energy trying to convince me he wasn’t a part of the corruption and sleaze. He won my trust by saying that as an Australian he loathed all the nepotism, corruption and collusion as well. He portrayed himself as a fellow reformer, who was the best hope for cleaning up all the dirt. In other words, he systematically lied to me about his intentions over a long period of time. He deliberately set out to lie about his history, his motives and his principles in a highly elaborate fashion. I have dubbed him “The Talented Mr. Ripley” due to his endless ability to string out the next lie, the next alibi, the next plausible excuse. He is a talented con-artist if nothing else.

When did you first realize that “something was rotten within the state of TBI”?

As they love to point out, nowhere is perfect. I never expected TBI to be perfect nor any of my other employers. What I did expect is that they would show a little respect and decency to someone who had worked for them for 4 years. But when this con-man Luke Preece fraudulently told me that I was in danger of deportation and TBI wouldn’t protect me, I at least expect that this kind of bald-faced lying would prove unacceptable. Sadly, they didn’t even have enough integrity to discipline someone committing criminal fraud. In fact, they rushed to cover up his crime and pay out any witnesses to Luke’s wrongdoing- for example, the former teacher, Lipi.

So it wasn’t until the very end that I saw how completely lacking in principles or ethics they were, but I had a pretty good idea what I was dealing with- except for Luke Preece- for at least a couple of years before I left.

When did you first sense something was wrong?

After I became ACTEL- their word for DOS- at TBI Kuningan. It was then I became a little more aware of the big picture in terms of management and I started hearing a lot of gossip. In my experience, the Indonesians are much more aware of TBI nepotism and corruption than the expats, who are deliberately kept in the dark. After I started working with Indonesian staff more closely, I started to hear whispers about what was really going on. This was as far back as 2008.

What were these whispers saying?

The main thing, which was common knowledge really, was that Ibu Mariam and Ibu Ning were engaged in a very hostile turf war. Ning was now around 74 years old and many people thought she was too old. Mariam wanted to her job. Mariam was already TBI Director and she wanted to be Director of USG and run the whole show. It was widely known that Mariam and Ning detested each other and the whole of TBI and USG were divided into pro-Ning and pro-Mariam camps. There was constant internal politicking between them. They fought over whether a pro-Ning or pro-Mariam person would be appointed each time a major role became vacant. It is all very divisive and highly unproductive.

What else did you hear?

David Bradbury was always very vocal. He ignored me when I was a teacher but after I became ACTEL he warmed dramatically. Anyway, he used to make great fun of Mariam and talk about how far standards had fallen after she took over TBI in 2007. He blamed her and Ashley for making the company less friendly and welcoming. He also knew about a lot of her botched plans, delayed openings, huge stuff-ups and all the rest. He had started calling her time with the company “The Reign of Error” and had a great deal of fun mocking her incompetence.

How did this mirror what you experienced?

I think she is a completely negligent and lazy manager who doesn’t know what she is talking about. She simply never comes into the school and talks directly to managers. She got all her info through Ashley Platts and Chris Needham, which allowed them to “spin” events any way they wanted to. This ended up being a big factor in Chris’s demotion in 2009. She was absolutely aware of how bad TBI Fatmawati was doing but she just accepted whatever rubbish Chris told her without ever checking the facts herself. In years running or co-running group schools, she never stopped to ask how I was going or what my views were. She is too self-obsessed and self-important to get her hands dirty with actual management, preferring to just drift around saying, “I’m the TBI Director”, and letting other people do the real work.

Do you know anyone who worked closely with her or reported to her who has a good opinion of her?

Not a single person. I know of several people who have left high-paying positions (by Indonesian standards) because she was such a nightmare to work for. She can’t organize anything and when her laziness and lack of attention cause major problems, she inevitably blames her underlings and publicly humiliates them, even though she didn’t manage them properly or explain the task clearly.

So you were aware that Mariam was incompetent years before you left?

Yes, I was. Her incompetence and high-handedness are the stuff of TBI legend.

What was the next phase  in “the unmasking of the TBI Mafia”?

The next phase was learning about how nepotistic they are.

Can you give me an example?

The most egregious examples were to do with Ibu Ning, which showed that corruption and sleaze went right to the top. In 2010-2011, USG was planning the opening of the UIC Design School, which was being run by Ibu Ning’s own children. Even though TBI was making the bulk of the profits for the group, it was being bled dry by Ning Anhar so she could get UIC up and running for her kids before she retired. They needed their own “cash cow” once she was gone. So USG systematically raided the profits form TBI all through 2010 and 2011 to fund this new vanity project.

Who do you call it a vanity project?

In the first semester they had less than 20 enrolled students. Less than 20. And yet they had rented a very expensive location inside a mall. They have never forked out this kind of money for the premises for a TBI school. It annoyed me that TBI customers were getting nothing for their money and Ning’s kids were getting shovelled all the cash. I lobbied TBI all through 2011 and 2012 to try and upgrade their computers. The customers were rightly complaining that these computers were ancient and very slow. Yet Ning put the needs of her own kids and their 20 UIC students above the needs of 600 TBI Kuningan students every time. She bought new Apple Macs for the UIC Design School and wouldn’t buy even cheap computers or laptops at TBI Kuningan.

It got so bad in 2011 we couldn’t even replace broken chairs or paint dirty walls at TBI Kuningan because there was so little money. When I complained to Finance, they simply mention “UIC Design School” as the reason money was so tight, and it was a very nudge-nudge wink-wink situation. Everyone knew Ning was fleecing USG before she handed the company over to Mariam. Mind you, this was at a time when profits at TBI Kuningan were surging. We were making $30,000 profit a month despite huge “management fees” being extracted by USG. But they simply refused to invest anything back in their business and just used it as a “cash cow” to milk for their own kids’ benefit.

Were there any other examples of nepotism which spring to mind?

They were numerous. When I was at TBI Sudirman I was told that it was problematic to fire a casual teacher who had assaulted Atika in the staffroom because the “hitter” was a relative of someone in Finance. Then there was Ibu Wati who was widely known to be Ning’s coffee buddy. She was appointed as School Manager of TBI Kuningan despite the fact that she had zero educational management experience. She did very badly and was demoted six months later. Basically, nepotism was a plague on the company. Mariam’s friend Monica was appointed Head of Academics and was famous for sleeping at her desk, dropping out of the CELTA Young Learners course because it was “too demanding” and never producing anything much. Nepotism was rife in the company and these are just the most high-profile examples.

Why did you stick it out for so long?

After 2010 Preece was an increasing factor. He was my direct supervisor and he constantly told me how great my stats were and how well I was doing. He encouraged me to stay in the company and told me my input and views were appreciated. When I shared my concerns about nepotism, he told me he shared my frustrations but told me to hang on. He said Ning would soon leave USG and she was the worst offender in terms of nepotism. He said it would be a lot better once she had gone and she was now old and was on her way out. He led me to believe that things would soon be improving once he was firmly in charge. I was fooled into believing his lies.

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