Thu, 27 May 2004

City under fire for 'discrimination' against sidewalk vendors

Damar Harsanto, Jakarta

The city administration was slammed on Wednesday for what critics said was its harsh treatment of sidewalk vendors, while at the same time turning a blind eye to businesses being run out of houses not designated for commercial or business purposes.

"It is OK if the administration wants to uphold the regulations, even by force, but please do not discriminate," said Adolf Heuken, the author of several books on Jakarta's history.

Heuken said the administration discriminatorily enforced Bylaw No. 11/1988 on public order by forcibly evicting sidewalk vendors but turning a blind eye to other enterprises that also violated the bylaw.

"Look at the Menteng residential area (in Central Jakarta). Many houses have been converted into commercial places, but the administration has yet to take action to regularize them," he said.

Heuken was a panelist at a book discussion at the Jakarta Media Center in Central Jakarta to celebrate the fourth anniversary of non-governmental organization the Jakarta Residents Forum (Fakta). The book being discussed was Fakta's recently released Bunga Trotoar (Sidewalk Flowers), a survey of street vendors in the city.

Panelist Agustinus Herwanto of Fakta also voiced concern over the administration's policies.

"If the administration is not discriminative, why does it allow gas stations, malls and shopping centers to occupy green zones across the city?" he asked.

Street vendors are frequently blamed for traffic congestion because they take over the sidewalks and spill over into the road.

The administration earlier said it lacked the space to accommodate all of the street vendors in the city. Officials said they could only provide space for 6,609 out of 147,000 registered sidewalk vendors, plus the thousands of unregistered ones.

Tasman, a street vendor in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, said about 250 vendors in the area had been trying in vain to obtain permits from the municipality for the past two years. Instead, he said, the vendors had to deal with extortion by thugs and officials.

"The community unit chief even demands a fee from us, saying it is part of the implementation of the autonomy law. Is that reasonable?" he said.

Heuken said street vendors first really appeared in the capital in the 1950s. However, the administration has never come up with a spatial planning concept to accommodate the vendors.

And, he said, with the lack of job opportunities in the city more and more people will set themselves up as small-scale entrepreneurs in order to survive.