Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Public figures make the most of market fire

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Tanah Abang market turned into a venue for a public relations campaign when a number of politicians and ministers visited the vast textile market, which was still burning on Friday afternoon.

The first to visit was Minister of Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi followed by Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, State Minister of Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises Alimarwan Hanan, Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah, First Gentleman Taufik Kiemas, Golkar Party executive Fahmi Idris and House of Representatives member Azwir Dainy Tara.

Previously on Thursday, New Indonesia Party leader Sjahrir also visited the market.

They all held talks with the traders, but offered them no solutions to their plight. "We don't really need their visits. What we need is a solution to our problems," Rizal, one of the traders, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

During the talks, all the traders had one thing in mind: refusing the Jakarta administration's plan to temporarily relocate the owners of burned shops to a six-hectare plot of land under the control of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency near a dam in Kebon Melati. The site is 500 meters from the Tanah Abang market.

The traders are demanding space in the parking lot of the market's Block F and suggesting that the Kebon Melati plot be used as parking space.

Rini said the government had no problem with such an arrangement.

But Sutiyoso rejected their demand, saying that the parking lot could not accommodate 2,000 traders.

Late on Friday afternoon, over 5,500 owners elected several representatives to repeat their demand on Saturday to Sutiyoso.

Chairman of PT Payung Alam Semesta (PAS), Tanah Abang Trading House, Irwan Husein, said both the Jakarta administration and city market operator PD Pasar Jaya should not stop the traders from resuming business as soon as possible.

He said that, as the largest supplier of textiles and apparel to leading retailers such as Matahari and Ramayana, Tanah Abang market's turnover amounted to a minimum of Rp 600 billion ($67.4 million) per day.

"Moreover, the temporarily closure of business would affect businesses as far as Pekalongan in Central Java and Bandung in West Java. It would mean leaving millions of people without jobs," he told the Post and Antara.

He was referring to factory workers, tailors, kiosk employees, forwarding business employees, as well as hundreds of market middlemen.

Another kiosk owner, Umar, who ran a business at the market for 42 years, deemed that the market had been neglected despite the huge amount of revenue it generated for the administration every year.

On Friday afternoon, 200 firefighters were still working at site, but only 50 were wearing face masks that they received earlier on Friday and fewer wore fireproof jackets.

Heavy rain and the unrelenting efforts of firefighters apparently were not enough to put out the fire, which has been burning for three days.