Mon, 24 Feb 2003

LBH provides lawyers for Tanah Abang fire victims

Ahmad Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH-Jakarta) will provide lawyers for victims of the Tanah Abang market fire if the latter need assistance in suing city-owned market operator PD Pasar Jaya for its negligence which caused the fire on Wednesday.

"We will just prepare our lawyers if traders of the Tanah Abang market want to sue PD Pasar Jaya as the market operator," LBH-Jakarta's urban division head Tubagus Haryo Karbyanto told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Tubagus said PD Pasar Jaya could be sued for neglecting to provide proper fire equipment, such as fire extinguishers and water hydrants, in the market and its vicinity.

He said that although the market operator claimed to have equipped the market with proper fire equipment, the traders could still sue the operator for not maintaining the equipment properly.

"As market operator, PD Pasar Jaya has an obligation to provide fire equipment and maintain it. If they have not done that, the traders could sue them," he said.

The Tanah Abang market, the country's largest textile market, was destroyed by a fire on Wednesday which started at about 12:30 p.m. and as of Saturday the fire could not be completely extinguished.

Fire fighters have complained that the lack of access to the market and unusable water hydrants had made it difficult for them to extinguish the fire.

The fire fighters said the market's biggest water pump, which supplied water to the hydrants, was damaged due to poor maintenance.

The city fire department sent a letter earlier this month, asking PD Pasar Jaya to check the fire equipment in the market, but it never responded.

Separately, lawyer Azas Tigor Nainggolan of the Jakarta Residents Forum (Fakta) expressed his readiness to join LBH to help the fire victims in their suit.

"The victims could file a class action suit if they suffered losses because of the fire. They could demand a certain amount of compensation from PD Pasar Jaya," Tigor told the Post on Saturday.

He regretted a statement by PD Pasar Jaya president Syahrir Tanjung, who said the fire was just a "disaster" without admitting his company's failure to manage the market properly.

The fire which destroyed about 5,500 kiosks, triggered speculation among traders, that the market was intentionally burned.

The speculation was based on a report that the rental rights for the majority of the 5,500 kiosks will end this year. PD Pasar Jaya had planned to build a new market building, but the plan was rejected by the traders.

However, Syahrir Tanjung has denied speculation that his company intentionally burned the market, although he admitted that it had planned the development of the new Tanah Abang market since 2001.

"It's not true. We also suffered losses in the fire since this market contributes one third of our revenue," he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday.

He said some Rp 33 billion (US$3.6 million) of PD Pasar Jaya's total annual income of Rp 100 billion was obtained from rental fees from kiosks at the Tanah Abang market.