Tue, 01 Aug 2000

Pedicab drivers win lawsuit against Jakarta governor

JAKARTA (JP): Over 1,000 people crammed into the Central Jakarta District Courthouse and joyfully screamed after the judges ruled in favor of becak (pedicab) drivers, declaring unlawful the Jakarta governor's ban on pedicabs in the capital.

"The plaintiffs (pedicab drivers) are allowed to operate in and around residential complexes, marketplaces and other selected areas in the capital," presiding judge Manis Soejono told the court.

"I also advise the city administration to revise city Bylaw No. 11/1988, which prohibits pedicab drivers from operating in the capital. The case is closed."

The verdict was saluted by pedicab drivers, who clapped wildly, hugged and congratulated one another in the packed courtroom.

On the contrary, it shocked lawyers representing the city administration, Iskandar and Hendra Panggabean, who immediately made their way out of the courtroom after Judge Manis finished reading the verdict.

"We have to report this verdict to Governor Sutiyoso first. Whether we will appeal or not, that's entirely the governor's decision," Iskandar said, before hurriedly leaving the courtroom.

The court, however, did not entertain all of the plaintiffs' demands stated in their lawsuit.

"The court rejects the plaintiffs' demand that the governor must make a verbal apology and a written apology via the media to the pedicab drivers for causing nonmaterial damages," Judge Manis said.

"Since it was never proven in court that nonmaterial losses were inflicted on the drivers, the plaintiffs' demand that Sutiyoso pay Rp 1.875 billion (US$210,600) in nonmaterial damages is rejected," he added.

Judge Manis also rejected the demand that the city administration hand over City Hall in exchange for nonmaterial losses inflicted on the drivers.

Celebrating their victory, the euphoric becak drivers escorted by several NGO activists brought their pedicabs to Jl. Gajah Mada and nearby streets, causing heavy and prolonged traffic congestion in the crowded business area.

At noon, they pedaled to City Hall to stage a rally. They were intent on meeting Governor Sutiyoso to force him to comply with the newly issued verdict of the Central Jakarta District Court.

"We want to know how Sutiyoso reacts to the court's decision," 45-year old becak driver Suparno said.

However, after waiting for about one hour, neither the governor nor his deputies were willing to meet with representatives of the drivers.

The drivers, claiming to represent a total of 6,000 pedicab drivers in the capital, then gathered along the street in front of City Hall. Their action immediately caused another traffic jam.

The situation almost turned violent when several pedicab drivers began banging on a car belonging to the city administration.

"Do not touch the car! Do not touch the car! ... It has nothing to do with our demand!" one driver shouted to calm his friends.

Speaking as a representative of the pedicab drivers, coordinator of the Urban Poor Consortium Wardah Hafidz demanded that the city administration immediately issue a ruling that would regulate the operation of becak in the capital.

"Winning the lawsuit will not mean that becak drivers are free to roam the city's streets without regulation. They should be treated like any other street users," Wardah said.

Another becak driver, Wahod, 50, said that he was relieved with the court's ruling.

Met separately, Governor Sutiyoso -- seemingly amazed by the court's decision -- questioned the court's right to judge the city bylaw.

"Where is the so called regional autonomy if regional administrations' rights to take care of their own business is neglected by the court?" he asked.

The governor insisted that the city administration would continue with its operation to rid the city's streets of pedicabs despite the court's verdict.

"I'll remain consistent with the cleanup because I am just following the bylaw. I'm under constant pressure from city councillors that for once and for all I rid the city of pedicabs.

"The bylaw is still in effect so I have no choice but to uphold the bylaw. City administration will appeal to the high court," he announced.

"If residents want the bylaw to be amended, they have to deliver their demand to City Council because the bylaw was enacted with the council's consent," he said.

City Council speaker Edy Waluyo supported Sutiyoso.

"City administration must appeal to the high court because we have the bylaw which prohibits pedicabs," he said.

Similarly, chairwoman of the National Mandate Party (PAN) faction at City Council Wasilah Sutrisno urged the city administration to appeal to the high court.

"I wonder whether the court understands the law or not. It (the verdict) violates the bylaw," she said. (ylt/nvn/jaw)