Don’t Worry: Mariam’s in Charge

In recent days we have reported that Anita Pasaribu has been replaced as SM of TBI Kelapa Gading after less than a year. She followed work-shy hypochondriac Nugraha (Nunu) who casually admitted to the whole staff that he didn’t like being school manager because it was a lot of work and he was “basically a lazy person”. (Not that he stepped down himself; he sucked up the perks and took it easy until he was fired.) So much for the Brave New World of Indonesian school managers who were going to lead TBI to a new era of low-cost glory. The school has merely lost customers and revenue at a rate of knots, making the introduction of local managers a classic case of a false economy.

But the real question to ask is not whether Anita or Nunu were school manager material; neither of them had so much as as TEFL certificate. They were completely unqualified to run a language academy. The real question is who is really to blame for 2 wasted years under these management buffoons. Are these failed school managers to blame, or is the person who put them there at fault? And that brings us back to former batik-hawker, Dance Major and delusional narcissist, Mariam Kartikatresni, the long-time TBI Director. She has now been crowned Director of the new TBI, PT. Titian Buana Ilmu. Ultimately, we want to suggest, it is this vindictive charlatan who has ruined TBI and who should be answerable for the mess at TBI Kelapa Gading.

TBI as a Javanese Royal Court

In TBI there is a unique management culture which is more similar to a Javanese royal court than a modern business. It has long been carefully keep out of the sight of the “Native Speakers” because the squirming sycophancy and endless fawning of this world is a complete contradiction of the values of fairness, professionalism and merit-based promotion that the expat teachers are led to expect. The Senior Managers, Reza, Mariam and previously Ning took a completely hands off approach with the expat teachers, leaving the practicalities to the former ranks of expat managers.

The expat managers, on the other hand, were witness to a strange court-like world where Ning Anhar insisted on being called by the honorific term “Bunda”- Beloved Mother. If she entered the room everyone would stand in perfect silence until she reached the podium. She would then give her audience permission to sit, whereupon she would deliver an irrelevant, self-aggrandising speech entirely in Indonesian and then immediately leave and not show her face again for months. Ning was also known for her temper tantrums if she was not recognised and fawned upon on the rare occasions she visited TBI schools.

Just like a royal court, there were endless power struggles, petty politics and bickering. One former insider told us that she couldn’t stand the endless politics between Ning and Mariam and described it as a true nightmare working there. The lateness, incompetence and vindictiveness of Mariam is legendary and it is no exaggeration to say that no one can stand her. I once asked Atika, the manager of TBI Kuningan, if she knew anyone who liked Mariam and she laughed aloud and said, “Of course not. Everyone is scared of her but no one respects her.” The senior managers of TBI ruled it like their own fiefdom, a personal royal court, using their underlings as scapegoats when things kept going wrong.

No Accountability

TBI has no shareholders, so there is no accountability built into the system. There is no one they have to answer to if profits tumble or even if schools close, as TBI Semarang and both branches of the old TBI Malang did in late 2012. There was long the board of USG, a yayasan (charity) who controlled TBI, but this was stuffed full of relatives and cronies of the main players in the TBI royal court. Mariam’s in-laws were on the board of USG and they had other cronies in their camp. The board was part of the game.

There were attempts to remove Mariam for corruption and incompetence, and she was ousted as TBI Director at least twice, but she always pulled strings using nepotism and cronyism and got back into the Director position. This was highly lucrative. Mysterious management fees worth hundreds of millions of rupiah were withdrawn from TBI schools’ balance sheets from time to time for services that were never rendered. And profits were never reinvested in school facilities; the money was mostly channelled towards pet projects of cronies and family members.

Mariam Is the Problem

At the end of the day, TBI is a rigged game. Teachers and school managers are held responsible but this does not apply to the people “in the loop”- a corrupt Mafia of Mariam and her cronies. In 2009 Mariam appointed Chris Needham to lead 3 schools in Jakarta and in 2010 he was fired from them all for falsifying documents and data. Yet none of it stuck to her. It never does. If things go wrong, it is always the school manager’s fault, even when Mariam personally recommended the school manager who failed. Even when it was her job to monitor and direct these school managers.

She is answerable to no one, so she scapegoats people under her. Surrounded by sycophants who tell her she is wonderful while they revile her behind her back, she leads TBI from one botched appointment to another, and none of it is ever her fault. In truth, she is usually out shopping or having long lunches, leaving the nitty gritty to such dishonest con-men as Luke and Ashley, who distort the information to serve their own agendas. Without fail, she was always misinformed or completely ignorant about what was going on in the schools, where she very rarely appeared anyway. But it is precisely this lax or non-existent oversight which is the reason TBI has slumped in recent years and become a bit of a joke in Jakarta. Mariam is more responsible for TBI Kelapa Gading’s misfortunes than Anita or Nunu will ever be.


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