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Increased poverty a real threat with new bylaw

Jakarta Post - September 15, 2007

Jakarta – Opponents of the controversial new bylaw banning beggars and street vendors have said the threat of increased poverty across the city should be strong enough to make Jakarta's administration sit up and listen – if not annul the bylaw completely.

The Institute for Ecosoc Rights has calculated street vendors in Jakarta can earn a combined total of about Rp 13 trillion (US$1.38 billion) per year or some Rp 35 million per day. The calculation was made based on city development planning agency data collected in 2006 on 141,071 registered street vendors.

"It's a lot of money compared to the city's 2007 budget of Rp 17.97 trillion," researcher Sri Maryanti said Friday. "The poverty rate will increase if the city administration banish those vendors."

The new ordinance, which would replace the 1988 ordinance on public order, bans anyone from opening businesses on streets, sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and other communal areas. It would also prohibit people from donating money to beggars, buskers and street children.

Academics, observers and legal experts have condemned the ordinance, saying it was "ridiculous" and "inhumane" because it discriminates some minority groups.

On Friday, the Poor People Alliance met with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to complain about the newly endorsed bylaw. The alliance said the ordinance would block the urban poor's ability to create a life for themselves.

Ex-busker Wawan said the city administration should find people a job if it wanted to ban begging and street vendors. "I will support the bylaw if the government can find the people a job," the 17-year-old said.

Wawan today works at the Jakarta Center for Street Children (JCSC) and said, "No one wants to go begging for the rest of their lives".

Nurkholis Hidayat from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute said the bylaw was against citizen rights. "It's worse than the previous regulation in 1988, which was used by the Jakarta administration to fight against us, the urban poor," Nurkholis said.

"Public order officials often use violence to organize street vendors, beggars, buskers and sex workers. But these people are only trying to look for money."

Street vendor Rio from the Urban Poor Society Union said the government should give people in need access to technology, education and housing if it wanted to eradicate poverty, instead of endorsing such bylaws. "This (ordinance) shows that the Jakarta administration doesn't care about us," Rio said.

Transgender sex worker Ines said the new bylaw was discriminatory because sex workers were not allowed to operate in sidewalks.

Komnas HAM Deputy Chairman M. Ridha Saleh said the commission would summon the city administration soon to discuss about the bylaw. "We'll ask the administration why it tried to excise the people's right to live in the city," Ridha said.

He said he would create an evaluation team to assess the performance of public order officials. "We've heard reports officials conduct violence against the urban poor, such as street vendors, sex workers and street children. We hope that we can take some action in this matter."