Jakarta, the Indonesia’s capital city, is home to an estimated 11 million people. Like many urban centers in the developing world, Jakarta has become a magnet for people seeking work and a better quality of life from other parts of the country. However, Jakarta’s rapid urban growth presents an enormous headache for the city officials as they struggle to provide the necessary infrastructure and services.
Governor of Jakarta Sutiyoso, for instance, blames the large number of migrants pouring into Jakarta for many social problems. Every year, between 200,000 and 250,000 mostly unskilled migrants come to Jakarta to earn money. Many of these people are coming from areas of the country that offer few employment opportunities.
Most of them end up working in the informal sector as maids, pedicab drivers, construction workers or scavengers. Others establish businesses like food stalls or kiosks. They make a living and self-employed as the street vendors.
No one knows for sure how many people make up the informal sector in Jakarta. Yet it is a central part of life. Imagine Jakarta without street vendors, day laborers, garbage collectors, parking attendants, or Pak Ogah (people who help cars does a U turn in the middle of the road for a penny). Apparently, this unacknowledged slice of the city community is actually its heart.
Jakarta without street vendors and other informal sectors is not Jakarta at all. It is like Manila without Jeepneys or New York City without Broadway.
But, the informal sectors in this city have no legal protection whatsoever. All those meatball soup sellers are actually illegal. Law refers to the urban poor workers as social welfare problems. They have not been formally given any space. The law does not accept them as a real part of the community or economy.
Public Order Regulation of Jakarta regards the street vendors and urban poor workers as filth. According to this city law, trading in public places was illegal and those doing it should be swept out and go back to their villages. No wonder if urban poor workers are constantly evicted from their work locations and homes in so-called “city cleanup operations”.
In some targeted areas of the operation, the city government posts the banners stating things like: “This area has been cleansed of street vendors”. Raya Siahaan, Jakarta Chief of the Office for the Management of Social Disturbances, threatened to continue the raids against more than 100,000 illegal vendors.
The so-called street vendor cleanup operations in Jakarta over the Idul Fitri holiday in November came under criticism. We support the idea to make Jakarta as a clean and decent city. We also want Jakarta to be a “Better City, Better Life” as the motto of this capital of Indonesia. But, we view the raids as a violation of people’s right to make a living and to seek employment.
We see the operation has created fear among people who wanted to be self-employed. The use of violence to demolish kiosks, tents and the destruction of vendors’ property was a human rights violation.
The Jakarta Public Order Regulation No.8/1988, which was used as the legal basis for the operations, conflicted with the right of the people to have a proper job and earn a live hood.
People have a right to earn their living unharrassed, it’s not something they should have to beg for or be afraid about. They are not asking for the moon. They just want to be allowed to run their business and to be let alone.
Governor Sutiyoso may blame unskilled migrants for many social problems. However, we see the social ills as a result of the city administration’s inability to solve urban development problems.
Street vendors have long been blamed for causing traffic congestion, with many of them cramming the sidewalks and encroaching onto the road. But we see that Jakarta Administration, not the vendors, is to blame for failing to accommodate these businesses.
We appeal to the city authorities not to underestimate Jakarta residents who have come from outside Jakarta and settled here. These migrants have proven to be capable of employing themselves mainly as street vendors. They never apply for any job with the government and they have helped the Jakarta administration to minimize the problem of unemployment in the capital city. These migrants from West, Central and East Java, as well as from Sumatra, have contributed in no small way to Jakarta’s development.
The city administration could have managed the street vendors at a minimum cost by setting up regulations and letting the vendors manage the business by themselves. The street vendors, who started their business with their own money, could be required to trade in an orderly fashion and to create a clean environment around their stalls. What they need is the city administration provides them with a plot.
But Governor Sutiyoso is continuing his ‘clean up’ drive targeting thousands of informal sector workers –pedicab drivers, street vendors and street musicians- as well as evicting families forcibly from urban poor settlements. Nearly 2,000 pedicabs have been confiscated, 700 houses demolished and thousands of stalls and kiosks destroyed over the past few months.
With a sober heart and a very deep sympathy to the victim of “clean up” operations, we ask to the Governor Sutiyoso: Are you fighting poverty or fighting the poor?


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