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Laws spark controversy in Indonesian capital

JAKARTA - Chakim, a 24-year-old streetside cigarette vendor in Jakarta, could not hide his anger and confusion about newly-approved public order bylaws aimed at ridding the Indonesian capital of beggars and hawkers.

 Laws spark controversy in Indonesian capital

New law bans begging and hawking in Jakarta./EPA

"I have nowhere to work in my hometown, so I came to Jakarta and starting selling cigarettes on the street to get a little money to live," Chakim told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"I would be happy to stop this work if the government can give me a job."      He may need to consider new employment. Last week, the Jakarta City Council approved a bylaw that bans busking, begging and street hawking - as well as banning people from giving money to beggars, vendors and hawkers as part of a campaign to clean up this chaotic city of more than 12 million people.

The new bylaws replace an existing 1988 statute that was rarely enforced in a city where busy traffic intersections are often crowded with guitar-strumming youths, street children and peddlers.

However, many vendors and street singers were not bothered with the city administration's new plans.

"I have agreed with many buskers that we will stay on the streets, whatever it takes. The new bylaws don't scare me too much," said Susi, a transvestite who sings daily at a dusty and congested intersection in Central Jakarta.

"Very often I have been taken off the streets by the city's law and order officers," said Susi, showing off her booty of coins earned after several hours of singing to motorists stuck in traffic and at stoplights. "I can earn up to 30,000 rupiah (3 dollars and 20 cents) a day." 

Echoing Susi's determination was a filthy-looking 9-year-old girl named Fitriah, saying the most important thing to her is not the police, but how she can get as much money as possible.

"I go onto the streets every day after I finish school," said Fitriah, who carried her 4-year-old sister using a sarong as a sling. "I hope I will earn more money during Ramadan - as I did during (last year's) holy fasting month." 

While welcoming the new ordinances as a way to discourage street children from begging, psychologist Seto Mulyadi, who is also chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, feared it could lead to an increase in crime.

Other critics said they were pushed through without proper consideration for the poor in this sprawling and congested city, which is a magnet for many rural villagers who end up living in squatter slums and barely surviving.

Yayat Supriatna, a noted sociologist, described the new bylaws as "absurd," arguing that the fundamental reason there are so many beggars and street vendors is because they cannot find jobs in their rural hometowns.

"Both the City Council and the administration should have realised before endorsing the bylaws that poverty in the city is only the tip of the iceberg," Supriatna said.

Indonesia's economy is improving from the dark days of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, but its poverty level remains high, with nearly half the country's 230 million people living on 2 dollars a day or less. The poor have limited access to education, health care and shelter, while data shows unemployment is at 10 per cent.

Other new bylaws prohibit people from squatting alongside river banks and under toll roads. Poor migrants often build make-shift shelters in such areas, sometimes clogging up waterways in the flood-prone city and causing hygiene problems and fire hazards.

Under the new rules, expected to be enforced by the city administration beginning next year, offenders can be jailed for up to 180 days and fined up to 50 million rupiah (5,312 dollars).

It remains to be seen how motivated the city police will be to arrest people. New data issued by an independent organisation, the Institute for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, estimates there are 200,000 street vendors in Jakarta, who spend more than 15-billion rupiah (1.6-million dollars) annually in bribes and extortion money to corrupt local police.

Outgoing Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso urged the public to abide by the new rules.

"It is true we're still weak in enforcing the laws, but we need to realise that law enforcement will not succeed if people are not disciplined," Sutiyoso, who will step down next month, was quoted by The Jakarta Post as saying.

Several city councilors said the bylaws should encourage the Jakarta administration to follow the example of neighbouring Singapore, which tightly enforces public order regulations.

Wardah Hafidz, coordinator of the Urban Poor Consortium, a pressure group, called the new bylaw "ridiculous," saying that forcing the poor off the streets would only balloon the city's already-high unemployment rate.

She also said the new rules would affect working Indonesians because "the only way for those who work in office buildings to get cheap food is to buy from street hawkers."//Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA)

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