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Bylaw against beggars is 'absurd, ridiculous'

Jakarta Post - September 12, 2007

Mustaqim Adamrah, Jakarta – The newly endorsed bylaw on public order that bans donating money to beggars, buskers and street children has been called "absurd" and "ridiculous" by academics and observers.

"The ordinance is absurd. Can (the city administration and the City Council) say the ordinance will really 'alleviate poverty' in the city, eventually?" said Yayat Supriatna, a sociologist at Trisakti University.

"Both the city administration and the council should have realized before endorsing the bylaw that poverty issues in the city are only the tip of the iceberg."

On Monday all seven factions at the council agreed to pass the bylaw, which replaces a 19-year-old ordinance and is hoped to make Jakarta cleaner and more orderly.

The bylaw states that no "individual or institution may trade with street vendors or give money or goods to beggars, buskers or car windshield cleaners".

Another article also bans individuals or institutions from opening businesses on streets, sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and other communal areas not agreed upon by the city council.

"The fundamental thing here is that many beggars and street vendors are those who come from rural areas because they can't find jobs there and therefore, they are trying their luck here, the center of businesses," said Yayat.

"In the meantime, the administration hasn't always been ready for the massive influx of rural people, either on the policy side or in the city's facilities."

He said it was "odd" for the administration to complain that it was being burdened by poor people who made the city filth when it was not the administration that had provided jobs for them but "the Jakartans who do so because they feel sympathy, for example, for beggars and street singers. And this sympathy has become a business opportunity".

Yayat said there were currently more than 200,000 street vendors in Jakarta, who spent more than Rp 15 billion (US$1.6 million) every month in extortion protection and illegal fees, Yayat said, quoting the latest data from the Institute for Economics, Social and Culture Rights, an independent organization.

Urban Poor Consortium coordinator Wardah Hafidz said: "The City Council and the city administration are so stupid. Clearly, they didn't learn anything from the mistakes they made in the past."

Wardah said the administration had been thoughtless in its enforcement of the 2005 ordinance on air pollution control, which included among its stricture a ban on smoking in certain areas. "Due to the limited number of law enforcement agents, now the officials have to compromise with offenders," she said.

Psychologist Seto Mulyadi, who is chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, said he welcomed the new ordinance as it would discourage street children from begging.

However, Seto said it could lead to an increase in the crime rate. Wardah said, "The number of crimes may increase as a result of the ordinance's enactment but that doesn't mean all poor people will become criminals," she said

Having been endorsed by the City Council, the bylaw must be submitted to the Home Ministry to be legalized. The ministry will then send the legalized bylaw to the state secretary to be recorded in the state archive before being passed to the city administration to be enforced, a process that is likely to take a year.