Thu, 11 Mar 1999

1,000 'becak' drivers rally at City Hall

JAKARTA (JP): About 1,000 pedicab (becak) drivers held a noisy protest in front of City Hall on Wednesday, demanding clarification of their legal status to operate the vehicles in the capital.

Arriving in 300 pedicabs festooned with banners and the national flags, they appealed for an explanation from the city administration after several drivers were informed the three- wheeled pedicabs would be driven from the streets during March.

Drivers would reportedly receive a payment or become members of People's Security (Kamra), the government-sponsored civilian militia, in exchange for loss of their livelihood.

The drivers converged from across the city at the hall, located in the southern part of the National Monument complex on Jl. Medan Merdeka Selatan, beginning at 5 a.m.

Spokeswoman Wardah Hafidz from the Urban Poor Consortium, a non-governmental organization which led the protest, said officials of the city administration reportedly provided the drivers with three options.

"The drivers have been told to return the pedicabs to the place of origin and receive Rp 7,500 from the city administration for each becak, sell the pedicabs to the administration and receive Rp 100,000 each, or enlist in the Kamra program," Wardah told The Jakarta Post.

"It's ridiculous. Who does administration think it is to order drivers around in leading their lives?"

Drivers sat on the grass for several hours as they waited for word on their demand to meet Governor Sutiyoso.

City officials countered they would have to follow regular bureaucratic procedures.

"I guarantee that the governor will allocate time for you if you follow the procedures," Hadi Utomo, head of the public order office, said.

Hadi asserted that operation of pedicabs in the capital violated City Ordinance No. 11/1988, which designates Jakarta as a pedicab-free area and bars their operation.

However, a seeming policy flip-flop by Sutiyoso last year -- in which he told the media he could tolerate operation of the pedicabs during the economic crisis -- prompted an influx of drivers and vehicles. The governor subsequently retracted his statement.

Hadi complained the 4,146 pedicabs "crowd the city and are a menace to public order and traffic".

He did not confirm if the city administration provided the options to the drivers.

Wardah and the drivers refused to back down on their demand to meet Sutiyoso.

After about seven hours of waiting, they held speeches in front of the compound's gate. Tension grew when about 100 riot police ordered them to disperse.

"We'll deploy more troops if you don't obey us," a senior officer warned.

Wardah instructed the drivers to leave.

"We'll come with a bigger crowd next time to make the city administration listen to us," she said.

Asked separately about the pedicab drivers' protest, Sutiyoso only smiled and said: "No comment at the moment."

Wednesday's rally of the drivers was the largest since a protest last July in which 2,000 drivers flocked to City Hall.

Many drivers claimed they were threatened by security officers.

"Officers told my men that they would forcibly take the becak away and discard them in the sea for the fish unless they obeyed by taking one of the options," Abdul Cholid told the Post.

Driver Caswin Mugiarto of Teluk Gong, North Jakarta, said none of the three options was compelling.

"How will I earn money for food? As for Kamra, I would not sign up, even if they paid me Rp 1 million a month."

In the nearby Ketapang area in West Jakarta, a group of some 30 pedicab drivers who attempted to join their fellow colleagues were blocked by about 20 police officers and soldiers.

Capt. Tumadi, chief of the Tambora military district, urged the drivers to peacefully disperse and return to work.

"You will all suffer if you insist on taking part in the protest," he told them.

The drivers from areas including Teluk Gong, Muara Baru, Jembatan Lima and Jelambar arrived as early as 6 a.m., Darma, the group's protest coordinator, said.

"A city official from the Jelambar office told me that pedicabs around here would be impounded in the next two weeks," he said.

Using a megaphone, Darma told the drivers to disperse. He added, however, that they should return to burn city officials' cars if their pedicabs were seized. (ind/ylt/01)